What Are the 5 Categories of Hurricanes?

You have likely heard hurricanes described by their category. Similar to tornadoes, hurricanes are categorized by wind speeds. A tropical storm becomes a hurricane once it has a sustained wind speed of 74 miles per hour or greater. 

There are five categories of hurricanes, but any hurricane can be dangerous and cause extensive damage. The United States uses the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale to categorize hurricanes on a scale of one to five. To categorize a storm, winds are measured at a height of 33 feet for one minute to determine an average. 

On the West Coast, the Pacific hurricane season lasts from May 15 to November 3, with an average of eight hurricanes and four major hurricanes of Category 3 or higher. On the East Coast, the Atlantic hurricane season runs from April 15 to November 30, with an average of seven hurricanes and three major hurricanes. Most Atlantic hurricanes form in mid-August to mid-October. 

Category 1 Hurricane – 74 to 95 MPH Winds

The lowest hurricane classification is Category 1, with sustained wind speeds between 64 and 82 knots, or 74 to 95 mph. At this strength, winds can damage roofs and siding on even well-constructed homes, bring down trees with shallow roots, and snap thick tree branches. 

Hurricane Nicole in 2022 was the most recent category 1 Atlantic hurricane to make landfall. It caused $1 billion in damage in The Bahamas, Southeastern U.S., and Dominican Republic and caused 11 deaths. Hurricanes Irene (1999) and Katrina (2005) were both Category 1 hurricanes when they made landfall. Both intensified: Irene to Category 2 and Katrina to Category 5. 

Category 2 Hurricane – 96 to 110 MPH Winds

A Category 2 hurricane has sustained wind speeds between 83 and 95 knots, or 96 to 110 mph. At this strength, hurricanes typically cause extensive damage including major damage to roofs and many trees uprooted. 

Hurricane Irene (1999) strengthened to a Category 2 hurricane after making landfall. In Pennsylvania, Hurricane Irene left over 700,000 people without power, killed three, and caused the Schuylkill River to crest at the highest level since 1869.

Category 3 Hurricane – 111 to 129 MPH Winds

Category 3 and higher hurricanes are considered major hurricanes. In this classification, devastating damage occurs if the hurricane makes landfall. A Category 3 hurricane has sustained winds of 96 to 112 knots or 111 to 129 mph. 

Hurricane Sandy (2012) was a Category 3 hurricane that caused 233 fatalities and nearly $69 billion in damage along the East Coast. The storm brought more than 20 inches of rainfall to southern Pennsylvania, shut down all highways and major roads in Philadelphia, and caused 16 fatalities.

Category 4 Hurricane – 130 to 156 MPH Winds

A Category 4 hurricane produces sustained winds of 113 to 136 knots or 130 to 156 mph. If it makes landfall, catastrophic damage is almost certain. At this strength, the winds will uproot or snap most trees. Exterior structure walls can be knocked down and roofs torn off completely. These catastrophic storms often leave an area uninhabitable and without power for weeks or longer. 

At this intensity, the cyclones often produce storm surges of 13 to 18 feet above normal levels. Hurricane Ike (2008) was a Category 4 hurricane that produced a 24-foot storm surge, the third-largest after Katrina and Camille. 

These storms often flood low-level areas well inland. Category 4 hurricanes are often Cape Verde-type hurricanes, usually the largest and most intense of the season. 

Since 2000, there have been 36 Category 4 Atlantic hurricanes. Hurricanes Harvey (2017) and Ida (2021) were both Category 4. Harvey is tied with Katrina as the costliest tropical cyclone ever recorded, with $125 billion in damage and 107 fatalities. It triggered catastrophic flooding throughout the Houston metro area. It was the wettest tropical storm on record for the U.S.; the peak accumulation was 60.6 inches in Nederland, TX. 

Category 5 Hurricane – 157 MPH or Greater Winds

The strongest hurricane classification is a Category 5 hurricane with sustained winds of 137 knots (157 mph) or higher. These devastating storms destroy most framed homes and cause widespread power outages. 

Since 1960, only 29 Atlantic hurricanes have reached Category 5 intensity. Hurricane Lee (2023) was the most recent Category 5 hurricane affecting the United States. Hurricane Ian (2022) was the deadliest hurricane to hit Florida since 1935. It was the third-costliest weather disaster worldwide. 

Hurricane Katrina (2005) was only Category 1 when it made landfall, but later reached Category 5 strength. It caused $145.5 billion in damage and 1,836 fatalities. It was one of the most intense and deadly Atlantic hurricanes to ever make landfall in the contiguous United States. 

Even inland areas of Pennsylvania are not safe from the devastation of a tropical storm or hurricane making landfall on the East Coast. In 1972, Tropical Storm Agnes caused the Susquehanna River to crest at 32.6 feet in Harrisburg, causing $2.8 billion in damage and 72 deaths. About 25,000 homes were damaged in the Susquehanna River Basin. 

Get Help From an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney

If you are injured or suffer losses due to hurricane damage and flooding, you should be able to count on your insurance policy to cover you. Sadly, bad faith insurance practices may happen after widespread damage from a natural disaster. 

If you believe your insurer is acting in bad faith, Marzzacco Niven & Associates is here for you. Call us for a free consultation with a local personal injury lawyer to discuss your claim. 

Contact Marzzacco Niven & Associates at the nearest location to schedule a free consultation today:  

Marzzacco Niven & Associates – Harrisburg Office
945 East Park Drive, Suite 103 Harrisburg, PA 17111
(717) 231-1640

Marzzacco Niven & Associates – York Office
2550 Kingston Road, Suite 210A York, PA 17401
(717) 995-8998

Marzzacco Niven & Associates – Wyomissing Office
833 N. Park Road, Suite 103, Room A Wyomissing, PA 19610
(717) 388-2325

Marzzacco Niven & Associates – Chambersburg Office
79 St. Paul Drive, Suite 1 Chambersburg, PA 17201
(717) 388-2378

Marzzacco Niven & Associates – Carlisle Office
354 Alexander Springs Road Carlisle, PA 17015
(717) 995-8732

Marzzacco Niven & Associates – Carbondale Office
30 Lincoln Avenue, Suite 101 Carbondale, PA 18407
(717) 995-8810

Marzzacco Niven & Associates – Lancaster Office
2173 Embassy Drive, Ste 123, Lancaster Pa 17603
(717) 616-2954

Marzzacco Niven & Associates – Lebanon Office
937 Willow Street, Suite D Lebanon
(717) 995-8963