Hurricane categories and other terminology explained

Eye: The center of the storm. If you are in the eye, you can see it stadium effect — where the clouds pile up like a stadium. It is the calmest part of the storm. You can also see the blue sky during the day and the stars at night.

Eye wall: This is the most dangerous part of the storm. This is the only area where you will find hurricane “force” winds or maximum winds.

Hurricane force winds: Hurricane-force winds weaken the further away from the eye. You can drop a whole category in a few kilometers.

Tropical storm winds: Tropical storm winds are typically felt throughout much of the hurricane. But they do not extend to the outer edge of the clouds. These winds are still dangerous but not the worst of the storm.

Outer bands: These are bands that spiral out of the storm, like a pinwheel with water on top. These lines of storms are located where tornadoes usually form. Floods can also occur there. Bands can create a “training” effect where rain continues to fall in the same spot, as we saw in Houston in the days following Harvey.

Hurricane Saffir Simpson Wind Scale

This is the scale used to measure how strong a hurricane is.

  • Category 1: Winds 74 to 95 mph (minor damage)
  • Category 2: Winds of 96 to 110 mph (major damage — can uproot trees and break windows)
  • Category 3: Winds of 111 to 129 mph (Extreme — Can shatter windows and doors)
  • Category 4: Winds of 130 to 156 mph (Catastrophic Damage — Can tear off roofs)
  • Category 5: Winds of 157 mph or higher (absolute worst and can level houses and destroy buildings)

Peak of hurricane season

Atlantic hurricane season begins on September 10th. The eight weeks around that date are often prime for conditions that feed strong storms.

Hover over the chart below to see the historical statistical probability of a tropical storm or hurricane on a specific date.