Saffir–Simpson scale

The Saffir–Simpson hurricane wind scale (SSHWS), formerly the Saffir–Simpson hurricane scale (SSHS), classifies hurricanes – Western Hemisphere tropical cyclones that exceed the intensities of tropical depressions and tropical storms – into five categories distinguished by the intensities of their sustained winds.

Saffir–Simpson scale
CategoryWind speeds
(for 1-minute maximum sustained winds)
m/sknots (kn)mphkm/h
Five ≥ 70 m/s   ≥ 137 kn   ≥ 157 mph   ≥ 252 km/h  
Four  58–70 m/s    113–136 kn    130–156 mph    209–251 km/h  
Three  50–58 m/s    96–112 kn    111–129 mph    178–208 km/h  
Two  43–49 m/s    83–95 kn    96–110 mph    154–177 km/h  
One  33–42 m/s    64–82 kn    74–95 mph    119–153 km/h  
Related classifications
(for 1-minute maximum sustained winds)
Tropical storm  18–32 m/s    34–63 kn    39–73 mph    63–118 km/h  
Tropical depression  ≤ 17 m/s    ≤ 33 kn    ≤ 38 mph    ≤ 62 km/h  

To be classified as a hurricane, a tropical cyclone must have one-minute maximum sustained winds of at least 74 mph (33 m/s; 64 kn; 119 km/h) (Category 1). The highest classification in the scale, Category 5, consists of storms with sustained winds over 156 mph (70 m/s; 136 kn; 251 km/h). The classifications can provide some indication of the potential damage and flooding a hurricane will cause upon landfall.

Officially, the Saffir–Simpson hurricane wind scale is based on the highest average wind over a one-minute time span and used only to describe hurricanes that form in the Atlantic Ocean and northern Pacific Ocean east of the International Date Line.

Other areas use different scales to label these storms, which are called cyclones or typhoons, depending on the area. These areas (except the JTWC) use three-minute or ten-minute averaged winds to determine the maximum sustained winds—which is an important difference and makes direct comparison with storms scaled with the Saffir–Simpson method difficult.

There is some criticism of the SSHWS for not accounting for rain, storm surge, and other important factors, but SSHWS defenders say that part of the goal of SSHWS is to be straightforward and simple to understand.


The scale was developed in 1971 by civil engineer Herbert Saffir and meteorologist Robert Simpson, who at the time was director of the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC).[1] The scale was introduced to the general public in 1973,[2] and saw widespread use after Neil Frank replaced Simpson at the helm of the NHC in 1974.[3]

The initial scale was developed by Herbert Saffir, a structural engineer, who in 1969 went on commission for the United Nations to study low-cost housing in hurricane-prone areas.[4] While conducting the study, Saffir realized there was no simple scale for describing the likely effects of a hurricane. Mirroring the utility of the Richter magnitude scale for describing earthquakes, he devised a 1–5 scale based on wind speed that showed expected damage to structures. Saffir gave the scale to the NHC, and Simpson added the effects of storm surge and flooding.

In 2009, the NHC made moves to eliminate pressure and storm surge ranges from the categories, transforming it into a pure wind scale, called the Saffir–Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale (Experimental) [SSHWS].[5] The new scale became operational on May 15, 2010.[6] The scale excludes flood ranges, storm surge estimations, rainfall, and location, which means a Category 2 hurricane that hits a major city will likely do far more cumulative damage than a Category 5 hurricane that hits a rural area.[7] The agency cited various hurricanes as reasons for removing the "scientifically inaccurate" information, including Hurricane Katrina (2005) and Hurricane Ike (2008), which both had stronger than estimated storm surges, and Hurricane Charley (2004), which had weaker than estimated storm surge.[8] Since being removed from the Saffir–Simpson hurricane wind scale, storm surge predicting and modeling is now handled with the use of computer numerical models such as ADCIRC and SLOSH.

In 2012, the NHC expanded the windspeed range for Category 4 by 1 mph in both directions, to 130–156 mph, with corresponding changes in the other units (113–136 kn, 209–251 km/h), instead of 131–155 mph (114–135 kn, 210–249 km/h). The NHC and the Central Pacific Hurricane Center assign tropical cyclone intensities in 5 knot increments, and then convert to mph and km/h with a similar rounding for other reports. So an intensity of 115 kn is rated Category 4, but the conversion to miles per hour (132.3 mph) would round down to 130 mph, making it appear to be a Category 3 storm. Likewise, an intensity of 135 kn (~155 mph, and thus Category 4) is 250.02 km/h, which, according to the definition used before the change would be Category 5. To resolve these issues, the NHC had been obliged to incorrectly report storms with wind speeds of 115 kn as 135 mph, and 135 kn as 245 km/h. The change in definition allows storms of 115 kn to be correctly rounded down to 130 mph, and storms of 135 kn to be correctly reported as 250 km/h, and still qualify as Category 4. Since the NHC had previously rounded incorrectly to keep storms in Category 4 in each unit of measure, the change does not affect the classification of storms from previous years.[5] The new scale became operational on May 15, 2012.[9]

Other Languages
беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Шкала ўраганаў Сафіра-Сімпсана
Bahasa Indonesia: Skala Saffir-Simpson
Kreyòl ayisyen: Echèl Saffir-Simpson