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Why a Category 1 hurricane can be worse than a Cat 5

Exploring the limits of the current hurricane scale

People look on at the the Cape Fear River on Sept. 18, 2018, as it crests from the rains caused by Hurricane Florence as it passed throughFayetteville, North Carolina
People look on at the the Cape Fear River on Sept. 18, 2018, as it crests from the rains caused by Hurricane Florence as it passed throughFayetteville, North Carolina (2018 Getty Images)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla – What will it take to get people to recognize hurricane inland flooding as the killer it is? 

Over 80% of Hurricane Harvey deaths were drownings, 36 deaths in Hurricane Floyd were flood related when it struck North Carolina in 1999. 

Not all storm tracks are forecasted as perfectly as Hurricane Florence. 

It’s straight line path to Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina was spot-on within miles of its five day prediction, however fluctuations in intensity were more difficult to predict.

Several growth spurts increased the hurricanes power to Category 4 strength but came ashore with peak winds around 90 mph when it made landfall September 14. 

At a Category 1 people assumed the weaker storm would lessen the blow while failing to recognize the highly advertised flood threat anticipated.

Heavy rain should not be a surprise with Florance since rainfall prediction was a nearly perfect.
Heavy rain should not be a surprise with Florance since rainfall prediction was a nearly perfect.

The Saffir-Simpson Scale doesn't tell the whole story and it shouldn't be used as an all inclusive index for the potential hurricane damage. 

People recognize the scales one through five metric but it does nothing to address the other variety of threats, including storm surge, rough seas, tornadoes, and freshwater
flooding from heavy rainfall.

Hurricanes possess too many dangerous facets to be summarized in one bitesize metric.

The Weather Authority tries to convey how each storm is different with unique outcomes like what we saw between Hurricane Irma and Matthew.

The scale’s inventors—Herbert Saffir, an engineer, and Robert Simpson, a meteorologist—conceived the measure to rate a storm’s total destruction potential back in 1971 utilizing the maximum sustained wind speed concentrated in the storm's eye. 

The scales inclusion of storm surge was omitted after Hurricane Ike hit Galveston, TX in 2008. 

The 15-20 foot surge just didn’t match a storm rated at Category Two.

For storms like Florence, it does not convey what’s most dangerous-intense rainfall.

Florence came to a grueling 2 mph crawl and made painfully clear, slower storms result in more rain.

Bigger storms result in larger surge even with the same category because winds extending wider generate larger surge.

Several potential risk scales should be used in addition to the Saffir-Simpson Scale to tell the whole story.
 


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