What do those hurricane categories really mean?

Hurricane Harvey is bearing down on Texas and will make landfall Friday night or Saturday morning. It is expected to be one of the most serious storms the United States has seen since Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in 2005.

Harvey is currently a Category 2 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, according to the National Hurricane Center, with winds reaching a maximum of 110 miles per hour. That scale ranges from 1 to 5, with storms above Category 3 designated as “major” hurricanes.


Here’s a guide to what each category on the scale means:

■Category 1: These are storms with winds between 74 and 95 miles per hour. A Category 1 hurricane has “very dangerous winds” that will cause some damage, according to the hurricane center. These storms can damage the roof, siding, and gutters of well-constructed homes, can snap branches or topple trees, and can cause power outages due to damage to power lines and poles.

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■Category 2: These storms have winds between 96 and 110 miles per hour. (Harvey is just reaching that upper limit and approaching Category 3.) Category 2 storms produce “extremely dangerous winds” that “cause extensive damage,” the center said. Hurricanes in this category can cause major damage to roofs and siding, snap or uproot most shallowly rooted trees, and result in “near-total power loss” lasting days to weeks.

■Category 3: With winds reaching speeds of 111 to 129 miles per hour, Category 3 storms can cause “devastating damage,” the center said. Even well-built homes can suffer major damage, including the removal of roof decking and gable ends. Many trees could be snapped or uprooted and block roads, and both electricity and water service could be unavailable for several days or weeks after the storm hits.

■Category 4: The winds of Category 4 storms reach speeds between 130 and 156 miles per hour and can result in “catastrophic damage.” Well-built homes could sustain severe damage, including the loss of roofs and walls. Most trees will be snapped or uprooted, and more power poles will be downed. The damage could isolate residential areas, with power outages possibly lasting weeks to months after the storm. Most of the area affected by the storm “will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.”


■Category 5: These hurricanes cause “catastrophic damage” with wind speeds of 157 miles per hour or more. “A high percentage” of homes would be destroyed in a Category 5 storm due to “total roof failure and wall collapse.” Residential areas would be isolated by fallen trees and power poles, with power outages potentially lasting weeks to months. Most areas affected by a Category 5 hurricane could be uninhabitable for weeks to months.

Ben Thompson can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Globe_Thompson.

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