It’s not just the category - hurricane numbers mean nothing when it comes to flooding

New concerns over hurricane categories

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - A hurricane category is designated using a ranking system called the Saffir-Simpson scale, but all that category number technically tells us is how strong a storm’s winds are. That can be tricky when you have a storm like Florence or Harvey that does more damage with its water than its wind, because the scale does not consider any other potential hurricane hazards.

That predicament has been a conversation among meteorologists recently, like WBTV’s Al Conklin.

“It doesn’t tell you anything about the rain, doesn’t tell you anything about the storm surge, doesn’t tell you about the tornado threat. It’s really focused on one critical element, which is most important right at the coast, but it doesn’t tell us much about what that,” Conklin said.

Those are the factors that have proven frightening and even fatal recently, just talk to the folks that lived through Florence, which was a category one at landfall last month. Some say that’s a misleading number, especially if you ask State Representative Deb Butler from Wilmington.

Butler address the North Carolina General Assembly in a special session last week when discussing the massive damage done in her district.

“Hurricane Florence, a Category 1 storm on the Saffir-Simpson Scale, a scale that should probably be reevaluated at this point, has churned eastern North Carolina into a pulp. A wet, moldy, hazardous and stinky pulp,” Butler said during the meeting.

Butler raised a question in her commentary last week that many in the meteorology world have been asking since Florence, and before then - Is it time to re-work the ranking system?

“Folks feel like we need to step into a new way of communicating what the real threats are, and so far, this is not doing the job,” said Al Conklin. “There’s nothing wrong with the system itself, only it needs to be amended, to maybe relate what the actual threats may be. Certainly wind is one element of these things, but it’s not the only thing.”

WBTV reached out to Butler Tuesday, and she agreed that the system may need to be rearranged.

“The current scaling doesn’t tell the whole story because we’re not discussing the water component. In my observation, and it’s a lay-person’s observation, it’s the water that’s doing most of the damage,” Butler said.

Florence is just the most recent example, but it follows plenty other low-category, high-impact storms, that ranked low on the Saffir-Simpson scale but high on damage and devastation.

For now, the system stays as is, so in the meantime experts say it’s not just about the category. It’s important to keep an eye on your local weather authorities, and make sure to pay attention to each storm’s specific factors, whether rain, wind, flooding or otherwise, in addition to whatever number it’s assigned.

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