Beyond Category 5: Does the current storm rating system need an update?
In online forums and at weather conferences, one question keeps popping up among armchair meteorologists and within the atmospheric science community.
With more and more "super storms" developing, do we need to add a sixth category to the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale?
The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale was developed in 1969. It's based on wind speeds and the damage possible within each category.
Category 1 starts at 74 miles per hour winds. The scale stops with Category 5 , 157 miles per hour winds and higher.
On the low end, missing shingles and snapped tree branches are projected.
On the extreme, framed homes are destroyed and areas are expected to be uninhabitable for weeks or months.
During the historic 2017 season, Hurricanes Irma and Maria both hit numbers way beyond the Category 5 threshold.
Maria's top windspeed was briefly 175 miles per hour. Irma's was a staggering 185 for 37 straight hours prompting questions about the need for a sixth category.
Beaman elaborated, "I don't think people need to focus on giving every wind speed its own category. That speaks for itself. Catastrophic damage from a Cat 5 should be enough to get everybody's' attention."
What is beyond catastrophic? Jason Beaman says nothing, that catastrophic is just that, catastrophic. Beaman is the lead meteorologist at the National Weather Service Office in Mobile, Alabama.
He says the National Hurricane Center's stance on the current scale is that it's fine as it is. He doesn't expect changes.
He continued, "When you're talking about catastrophic damage, you're talking about the worst of the worst. That's what we want people to focus on. The potential impacts from the storm, not necessarily a category of a storm."
Beaman says the scale shows only potential damage from wind. It does not factor in the other deadly force within a storm, which is water. Flooding rains like we saw with Hurricane Harvey, a Category 4 at landfall, or storm surge, which devastated our area during Hurricane Ivan. Ivan was a Cat 3 at landfall near Gulf Shores, Alabama.
Beaman warned, "If you're in a surge prone area, a very large in size Cat 3 or Cat 4 is gonna produce more catastrophic surge than a small Category 5." Beaman said the spate of recent "super storms" could have one positive spin. He pointed out that more people are discussing and preparing disaster plans.
"I think last year got everybody's attention. And it showed the destructive power of a major hurricane," he said.