- Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale
The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale is a classification used for most
Western Hemisphere tropical cyclones that exceed the intensities of tropical depressions and tropical storms, and thereby become hurricanes. The scale divides hurricanes into five categories distinguished by the intensities of their sustained winds. In order to be classified as a hurricane, a tropical cyclone must have maximum sustained winds of at least 74 mph (33 m/s; 64 kt; 119 km/h). The highest classification in the scale, Category 5, is reserved for storms with winds exceeding 155 mph (69 m/s; 136 kt; 249 km/h).
The classifications are intended primarily for use in measuring the potential damage and
flooding a hurricane will cause upon landfall, although they have been criticized as being too simple. Officially, the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale is used "only" to describe hurricanes forming in the Atlantic Ocean and northern Pacific Ocean east of the International Date Line. Other areas use different classification scales to label these storms, which are called "cyclones" or "typhoons", depending on the area.
The scale was developed in 1971 by civil engineer
Herbert Saffirand meteorologist Bob Simpson, who at the time was director of the U.S. National Hurricane Center(NHC).cite news|author = Williams, Jack | title = Hurricane scale invented to communicate storm danger | publisher = USA Today| date = May 17, 2005| accessdate = 2007-02-25 | url= http://www.usatoday.com/weather/hurricane/whscale.htm] The scale was introduced to the general public in 1973,cite web | url = http://www.thehurricanearchive.com/Viewer.aspx?
| title = '73 Hurricanes to be Graded | author = Staff writer | publisher =
The Associated Press| date = May 9, 1973| accessdate = 2007-12-08] and saw widespread use after Neil Frankreplaced Simpson at the helm of the NHC in 1974.
The initial scale was developed by Saffir, a structural engineer, who in 1969 went on commission for the
United Nationsto study low-cost housing in hurricane-prone areas. [cite news|author=Associated Press|date=2001-08-13|title=Hurricanes shaped life of scale inventor Saffir|accessdate=2007-12-21|url=http://www.thehurricanearchive.com/Viewer.aspx?
] While performing the study, Saffir realized there was no simple scale for describing the likely effects of a hurricane. Mirroring the utility of the
Richter magnitude scalein describing earthquakes, he devised a 1–5 scale based on wind speedthat showed expected damage to structures. Saffir gave the scale to the NHC, and Simpson added the effects of storm surgeand flooding. The scale does not take into account rainfallor location, which means a Category 2 hurricane which hits a major city will likely do far more damage than a Category 5 hurricane that hits a rural area.
The scale separates hurricanes into five different categories based on wind, central barometric pressure, and
storm surge. The U.S. National Hurricane Center classifies hurricanes of Category 3 and above as "major hurricanes". Most weather agencies use the definition for sustained winds recommended by the World Meteorological Organization(WMO), which specifies measuring winds at a height of 33 ft (10 m) for 10 minutes, and then taking the average. By contrast, the U.S. National Weather Servicedefines sustained winds as average winds over a period of one minute, measured at the same 33 ft (10 m) height.cite web | author = Tropical Cyclone Weather Services Program | title = Tropical cyclone definitions | url = http://www.weather.gov/directives/sym/pd01006004curr.pdf | format = PDF | date = June 1, 2006| accessdate = 2006-11-30 | publisher = National Weather Service] cite web | author= Federal Emergency Management Agency| title = Hurricane Glossary of Terms | year = 2004 | accessdate = 2006-03-24 | url = http://web.archive.org/web/20051214034332/http://www.fema.gov/hazards/hurricanes/hurglos.shtm Accessed through the Wayback Machine.] Central pressure values are approximate. Intensity of example hurricanes is from both the time of landfall and the maximum intensity.cite web | author = National Hurricane Center| title = Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale Information | publisher = National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration| date = June 22, 2006| url = http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/aboutsshs.shtml | accessdate = 2007-02-25]
The scale is roughly logarithmic in wind speed, and the top wind speed for Category "c" ("c"=1, 2, 3, or 4) can be expressed as miles per hour rounded to the nearest multiple of 5.
The five categories are, in order of increasing intensity:
Tropical cyclones of this intensity and higher receive the name of major hurricanes when located in the Atlantic or Eastern Pacific basins. These storms can cause some structural damage to small residences and utility buildings, particularly those of wood frame or manufactured materials with minor
curtainwallfailures. Buildings that lack a solid foundation, such as mobile homes, are usually destroyed, and gable-end roofs are peeled off. Manufactured homes usually sustain very heavy and irreparable damage. Flooding near the coast destroys smaller structures, while larger structures are hit by floating debris. Additionally, terrainmay be flooded well inland.
seealso|List of Category 4 Atlantic hurricanesCategory 4 hurricanes tend to produce more extensive curtainwall failures, with some complete roof
structural failureon small residences. Heavy, irreparable damage and near complete destruction of gas station canopies and other wide span overhang type structures are also common. Mobile and manufactured homes are leveled. These hurricanes cause major erosion of beach areas and terrain may be flooded well inland as well.
Hurricanes of this intensity are extremely dangerous to populated areas.
Hurricane Ikewas the most destructive Category 4 tropical cyclone in recorded history, causing damage in excess of $31.5 billion (2008 USD). With a storm surge of a Category 5 height though the windspeeds were that of a Category 2-3, Ike brought on the greatest recorded storm surge of any Category 4 Altantic tropical cyclone. Ike also went on to become the most massive Altantic tropical cyclone ever recorded. Use of radius of outermost closed isobarstatistics indicate that Hurricane Ikewas the largest tropical cyclone ever observed in the Atlantic basin. [cite blog |first=Jeff |last=Masters |title=Ike's record size. |url=http://www.wunderground.com/blog/JeffMasters/comment.html?entrynum=1082&tstamp=200809&page=9 |publisher=Weather Underground |date=2008-09-12 |accessdate=2008-09-27] The Galveston Hurricane of 1900, the deadliest natural disaster to hit the United States, would be classified as Category 4 if it occurred today. Other examples of storms at this intensity are Hazel (1954), Carmen (1974), Iniki (1992), Luis (1995), Iris (2001), Charley (2004), and Gustav (2008).
seealso|List of Category 5 Atlantic hurricanes|List of Category 5 Pacific hurricanes
Category 5 is the highest category a tropical cyclone can obtain in the Saffir-Simpson scale. These storms cause complete roof failure on many residences and industrial buildings, and some complete building failures with small utility buildings blown over or away. Collapse of many wide-span roofs and walls, especially those with no interior supports, is common. Very heavy and irreparable damage to many wood frame structures and total destruction to mobile/manufactured homes is prevalent. Only a few types of structures are capable of surviving intact, and only if located at least three to five miles (four to eight km) inland. They include office, condominium and apartment buildings and hotels that are of solid concrete or steel frame construction, public multi-story concrete parking garages, and residences that are made of either reinforced brick or
concrete/ cementblock and have hipped roofs with slopes of no less than 35 degrees from horizontal and no overhangs of any kind, and if the windows are either made of hurricane resistant safety glass or covered with shutters.
The storm's flooding causes major damage to the lower floors of all structures near the shoreline, and many coastal structures can be completely flattened or washed away by the
storm surge. Storm surge damage can occur up to four city blocks inland, with flooding, depending on terrain, reaching six to seven blocks inland. Massive evacuation of residential areas may be required if the hurricane threatens populated areas.
Storms of this intensity can be severely damaging. Historical examples that reached the Category 5 status and made landfall as such include the
Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, the 1959 Mexico Hurricane, Camille in 1969, Gilbert in 1988, Andrew in 1992, and Dean and Felix in 2007.
Some scientists, including
Kerry Emanueland Lakshmi Kantha, have criticized the scale as being too simplistic, indicating that the scale does not take into account the physical size of a storm, nor the amount of precipitationit produces. Additionally, they and others point out that the Saffir-Simpson scale, unlike the Richter scale used to measure earthquakes, is not open-ended, and is quantized into a small number of categories. Proposed replacement classifications include the Hurricane Intensity Index, which is based on the dynamic pressurecaused by a storm's winds, and the Hurricane Hazard Index, which bases itself on surface wind speeds, the radius of maximum winds of the storm, and its translational velocity.cite journal | author = Kantha, L. | url = http://www.ametro.net/~spongey/images/2006EO010003.pdf | month = January | year = 2006 | title = Time to Replace the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale? | journal = Eos | volume = 87 | issue = 1 | format = PDF | pages = 3,6 | accessdate = 2007-12-08] cite journal|last=Kantha|first=Lakshmi|month=February | year=2008|title=Tropical Cyclone Destructive Potential by Integrated Kinetic Energy|journal= Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society|publisher= American Meteorological Society|location=Boston|volume=89|issue=2|pages=219–221|url=http://ams.allenpress.com/archive/1520-0477/89/2/pdf/i1520-0477-89-2-219.pdf|accessdate=2008-08-19|doi=10.1175/BAMS-89-2-219|format=PDF] Both of these scales are continuous, akin to the Richter scale;cite web | author = Benfield Hazard Research Centre | publisher = University College London| title = Atmospheric Hazards | work = Hazard & Risk Science Review 2006 | url = http://www.benfieldhrc.org/activities/hrsr/h&rsr_2006/atmospheric.htm | year = 2006 | accessdate = 2007-12-08] however, neither of these scales have been used by officials.
After the string of powerful storm systems of the
2005 Atlantic hurricane season, a few newspaper columnists and scientists brought up the suggestion of introducing Category 6, and they have suggested pegging Category 6 to storms with winds greater than 175 or 180 mph (78–80 m/s; 150–155 knots; 280–290 km/h).cite news|author = Ker Than|title = Wilma's Rage Suggests New Hurricane Categories Needed|publisher = LiveScience|date = 2005-10-20|url = http://www.livescience.com/environment/051020_hurricane_winds.html|accessdate = 2005-10-20] [cite news|author = Bill Blakemore|title = Category 6 Hurricanes? They've Happened: Global Warming Winds Up Hurricane Scientists as NOAA Issues Its Atlantic Hurricane Predictions for Summer 2006|publisher = ABC News|date = 2006-05-21|url = http://abcnews.go.com/US/Science/story?id=1986862&page=1|accessdate = 2006-09-10] Only a few storms in history have reached into this hypothetical category. Most of these storms were west pacific Super Typhoons; most notably Typhoon Tipin 1979 with sustained winds of over 195 mph.
According to Robert Simpson, there is no reason for a Category 6 on the Saffir-Simpson Scale because it is designed to measure the potential damage of a hurricane to human-made structures.cite web|author = Debi Iacovelli|title = The Saffir/Simpson Hurricane Scale: An Interview with Dr. Robert Simpson|publisher = South Florida Sun-Sentinel|month = July | year = 2001|url = http://www.novalynx.com/simpson-interview.html|accessdate = 2006-09-10] If the wind speed of the hurricane is above 156 mph (250 km/h), then the damage to a building will be "serious no matter how well it's engineered". However, the result of new technologies in construction leads some to suggest that an increase in the number of categories is necessary.
Beaufort scale– For winds less intense than hurricane strength.
Fujita scale– For tornado intensity with damage correlated to wind speeds. The system was also intended for applicability in hurricanes and indeed is utilized by engineers in hurricane damage assessment.
Severe weather terminology
List of tropical cyclones
List of Category 5 Atlantic hurricanes
List of Category 5 Pacific hurricanes
* [http://www.novalynx.com/simpson-interview.html An Interview with Dr. Robert Simpson] - The Mariners Weather Log, April 1999
* [http://www.novalynx.com/saffir-interview.html Q&A with Herbert Saffir] - The South Florida Sun-Sentinel, June 2001
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