Hurricane Categories Don't Tell You Anything About The Water

The Hurricane wind scale classifies storms into five wind speed categories — but storms lower on that scale can still cause life-threatening flooding.

Hurricane Categories Don't Tell You Anything About The Water
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

When forecasters talk about hurricanes making landfall, mention of their severity on the five-category hurricane scale usually isn't far behind. But a hurricane's category doesn't convey all of its risks. 

Categories only measure wind speed. They don't account for the area a storm covers or measure rainfall or storm surge — which are deadlier than hurricane winds, on average. 

And recent history shows that a low-category storm can do as much or more water damage than a storm with stronger winds. 

Rainfall measurements in Hurricane Florence

What Happens When A Hurricane Stalls

Forecasters say Hurricane Florence could stall right as it makes landfall, like Hurricane Harvey did in 2017. This could lead to even more rain.


Hurricane Katrina made landfall as a Category 3 storm. Sandy had Category 1 winds when it flooded New York City. Much of the flooding from Harvey came while it was a tropical storm — below Category 1 on the wind scale.