Home Emergency Preparedness What Does Hurricane Category 1, 2, 3, 4, 5...Mean? By Melissa Locker Melissa Locker Melissa Locker writes about food, drinks, culture, gardening, and the joys of Waffle House Southern Living's editorial guidelines Updated on October 19, 2022 Fact checked by Jillian Dara Fact checked by Jillian Dara Jillian is a freelance writer, editor and fact-checker with 10 years of editorial experience in the lifestyle genre. In addition to fact-checking for Southern Living, Jillian works on multiple verticals across Dotdash-Meredith, including TripSavvy, The Spruce, and Travel + Leisure. brand's fact checking process Share Tweet Pin Email In This Article View All In This Article How Hurricanes Form How Hurricane Categories Are Determined Hurricane Categories How To Prepare For A Hurricane Photo: Harvepino/Getty Images If you happen to turn on the news during hurricane season and a storm is a-brewin,' there's a good chance that one of the anchors will mention a tropical storm has been upgraded and is now designated a Category Two, a Category Three, or heaven forbid a Category 5 storm. If you live in the South, the mention of a Category 4 or 5 storm gives you flashbacks to Hurricane Katrina or Andrew or Charley or Irma or Florence or any of the many, many storms that have battered the coast over the years. But what exactly is the difference between a tropical storm and a Category 3 or a Category 5 storm? How Hurricanes Form All hurricanes start out as tropical cyclones, whipping up winds out in the Atlantic Ocean, usually accompanied by rain and storm surges. When a tropical storm gets big enough to attract attention, it's usually a tropical depression that is given a number by the National Hurricane Center (NHC), which is keeping tabs on them. Once its winds kick up to 39 miles per hour and sustain that speed for 10 minutes, it becomes a tropical storm and the NHC gives it a name. If the storm keeps growing and eventually sustains winds of 74 mph, it graduates to being a fully-fledged hurricane. How Hurricane Categories Are Determined To determine which category a storm belongs in, meteorologists use something called the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, which measures a hurricane's strength based on sustained wind speed. The scale was originally developed by wind engineer Herb Saffir and meteorologist Bob Simpson in the mid-'70s and has been used ever since to help alert the public so they can prepare for the possible impact of impending storms. The scale lays out the speed of the wind and the type of damage and impact it can have. According to the experts at the National Hurricane Center, the system divides storms into five categories. In general, damage rises by about a factor of four for every category increase. Hurricane Categories Category 1: Dangerous winds 74 to 95 mph, which may cause some damage to roofs and siding and topple trees and power lines. Power outages could last a few to several days. Category 2: Extremely dangerous winds 96 to 110 mph, which could result in extensive damage to roofs and siding, snap power lines, uproot trees, and block roads. Power outages could last from several days to weeks. Category 3: Winds 111 to 129 mph, which can lead to devastating damage to homes, major road blockages from fallen trees, and loss of power and water. Category 4: Winds 130 to 156 mph leading to catastrophic damage to homes with winds strong enough to tear off roofs and walls. Most trees and power poles will be downed. Can make areas uninhabitable for weeks or months. Category 5: Catastrophic winds 157 mph or higher that will level many homes. Fallen trees and downed power lines will isolate residential areas and make much of the area uninhabitable for weeks or months. How To Prepare For A Hurricane While winds zipping by at 129 miles per hour can certainly be terrifying, just because a storm has high-speed wind doesn't mean it will always cause a lot of damage. Things like up-to-date building codes can dramatically lessen the impact of storms, and other factors, such as the duration of high winds and a change of wind direction can also mitigate damage. High winds, of course, are just a part of the damage that comes with a hurricane. The Saffir-Simpson Scale only measures wind and does not address the other forms of damage that people who live in hurricane zones know by heart: storm surge, floods, and tornadoes. On the Atlantic coast, which includes the Gulf, hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30. If the local news anchor is talking about storm categories during those months, be sure to pay attention, prepare your home, create a survival kit, and stay safe. Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! Tell us why! Other Submit Sources Southern Living is committed to using high-quality, reputable sources to support the facts in our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we fact check our content for accuracy. National Hurricane Center and Central Pacific Hurricane Center. Tropical Cyclone Climatology. National Hurricane Center and Central Pacific Hurricane Center. The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. National Hurricane Center and Central Pacific Hurricane Center. Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.