Share on Facebook

A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

This Is What Hurricane Categories Really Mean

Hurricanes are dangerous no matter the category, but there's a major difference between a tree branch snapping and that entire tree being uprooted from the ground. Here's what you need to know.

1 / 6
Category 5 super typhoon from outer space view. The eye of the hurricane.Zenobillis/Getty Images

The eye of the storm

We’re used to hearing hurricane categories announced on the news as they sweep through the country. But do you understand what these categories actually mean? Take a look to find out the real difference between a category 1 and a category 5 (and everything in between).

2 / 6
Tatiana Ayazo /

Category 1

First things first, hurricane categories come from the Saffir-Simpson Scale, which has been in use since 1971. It kicks off with category 1, but don’t let the low number fool you; a category 1 hurricane comes with damage and destruction too. While a category 1 hurricane is the least severe of storms, you’ll likely find yourself battling strong winds ranging anywhere from 74 to 95 mph. Minor damages to your home, like roof shingles flying off and or tree branches falling off, may occur. There will likely be power outages of a day or more due to power lines and poles toppling over. Live in a hurricane-prone area? Do these 11 things ASAP to prep your home.

3 / 6
Tatiana Ayazo /

Category 2

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Hurricane Center, a category 2 hurricane means very dangerous and strong winds, from 96 to 110 mph, that will cause extensive damage. “Well-constructed frame homes could sustain major roof and siding damages,” they report. Mobile homes, shopping centers, and apartments often are more damaged in a category 2 storm. You’ll also see shallowly rooted trees being ripped out of the ground. Almost total power outages are likely to occur that may last several days to even a few weeks. Ever wonder what happens to birds in a hurricane? We’ve got you covered.

4 / 6
Tatiana Ayazo /

Category 3

As hurricane categories strengthen, the winds grow strong and stronger. A category 3 storm is a major hurricane with really strong winds, ranging from 111 to 129 mph. Devastating damage may occur to you, your home, and even animals. Even if you have a well-built house with a strong foundation, you’ll likely find home damage, like pieces of roofs being blown off, windows shattering, and even an entire deck flying off. Electricity and water are often unavailable after a category 3 storm. And what about hurricane names? Here’s where they come from.

5 / 6
Tatiana Ayazo /

Category 4

According to NOAA, catastrophic damage will occur in a category 4 storm. “Well-built framed homes can sustain severe damage with loss of most of the roof structure and/or some exterior walls,” says NOAA. “Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.” Winds will be roaring at 130 to 156 mph, so expect lots of trees being uprooted and thrown around and power poles completely down. You’ll likely have no power for weeks or even months. These scary weather events caught on camera are extraordinary. 

6 / 6
Tatiana Ayazo /

Category 5

A category 5 hurricane is the worst of the worst. The most dangerous hurricane that leaves an incredible huge wake of destruction due to the 157+ mph winds and flooding. The majority of homes will be destroyed with entire roofs flying off and interior walls crumbling. Power outages will last for months and most of the area will be unlivable for weeks or even months. Some states are safer than others when it comes to hurricanes. Now that you understand the different hurricane categories, find out if you live in the city that’s most at risk for hurricanes. Also, if you ever read reports of a “category 6 hurricane” on its way, don’t believe a word of it. According to the National Hurricane Center, “There’s no Category 6 classification. Period.”