How are hurricanes categorized?
As the National Hurricane Center outlines, hurricanes are categorized based on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, which gives a 1 to 5 rating based on a hurricane's sustained wind speed. This scale also estimates potential property damage.
Hurricanes that are Category 3 and higher are considered major hurricanes because of their extremely intense wind speed and potential for significant damage and loss of life. Category 1 and 2 storms are still dangerous, so you should always prepare regardless of the storm’s category.
Category 1 Wind Speed: 74 to 95 mph
Potential damage to expect: Homes could experience damage to the roof, shingles, gutters and siding; large branches could snap and smaller trees may be uprooted; damage to power lines and poles could result in outages lasting for a few days.
Category 2 Wind Speed: 96 to 110 mph
Potential damage to expect: Homes could sustain major roof and siding damage; several downed trees could cause roadblocks; power outages could end up lasting from days to weeks.
Category 3 (major) Wind Speed: 111 to 129 mph
Potential damage to expect: Homes could experience major damage, even removal of decking; many downed trees could cause numerous roadblocks; electricity and water could be unavailable for several days to weeks.
Category 4 (major) Wind Speed: 130 to 156 mph
Potential damage to expect: Homes could sustain severe damage, with the loss of roof and/or some exterior walls potential; downed trees and power poles could isolate residential areas; power outages could last weeks, causing areas to become uninhabitable.
Category 5 (major) Wind Speed: 157+ mph
Potential damage to expect: Homes could suffer complete destruction, with total roof failure and wall collapse; downed trees and power poles will isolate residential areas; power outages could last months, making many areas uninhabitable.
Hurricane watch vs hurricane warning
A hurricane watch means a hurricane is possible. Watches are announced 48 hours before expected tropical-storm-force winds (39 to 73 mph) are expected to start, so keep a close eye on the news for updates. A hurricane warning means hurricane-force winds (74+ mph) are expected and are announced 36 hours in advance. You should begin to prepare for the oncoming hurricane immediately.