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Do We Need a New Hurricane-Rating System?

Hurricane
Chris Graythen, Getty Images

Weather-industry insiders feel that the Saffir-Simpson Scale, which rates hurricane strength on a scale of Category 1 (weakest) through 5 (strongest), is inadequate.

Some say changes need to be made, since the current system doesn’t include enough information about the storm, that it only denotes wind speed. It reveals little detail about the tidal surge, which is what actually causes the most deaths and damage.

August’s Hurricane Isaac was an example of the discrepancy in the current rating system and has sparked a debate over changing the rating so that citizens can properly prepare. Labeled merely a Category 1, Isaac had an 11-foot storm surge; it left seven people dead and half of the state of Louisiana without power; the damage bill was $2 billion. The end result was much worse than the rating would seem to indicate.

Then there was 2008′s Hurricane Ike, which touched down in Texas as a Category 2. Despite its low rating, the storm caused more property damage than any other hurricane in the Lone Star State’s history. It was also the second-most destructive storm in American history.

Because of examples like these, experts think the National Hurricane Center should rethink its rating strategy and come up with a system that indicates storm surge and potential destruction so that citizens can properly prepare. People tend assume they can better manage a Category 1 or Category 2, not realizing that other factors are at play and the storms can be much more dangerous than their ratings imply.

Since the digital age and social media mean people are bombarded with news on a daily basis, an efficient new hurricane-messaging system that distinguishes between a warning and a watch also needs to be put in place.

Tim Heller, chief meteorologist at ABC-13 in Houston said, “The public wants to know if it’s going to be a bad hurricane in 140 characters or less. Like it or not, people want a very simple answer to a complicated question: Is this a bad hurricane?”

[Houston Chronicle]

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