The Hurricane Conundrum: Your Location

The category of an approaching hurricane, as defined by the Saffir-Simpson Category, has long been viewed as the predictor of "what you are in for." Each category – defined by a specific range of sustained winds– attempts to quantify the destructive capability of a particular storm.

Lower category storms can still leave a lasting impact. For example, a Category 2 hurricane may knock down trees, damage poorly constructed buildings, and cause power outages that could last up to several days.


Sustained winds (mph)


Category 1

74 - 95


Category 2

96 - 110


Category 3

111 - 129


Category 4

130 - 156


Category 5

≥ 157


The Saffir-Simpson scale (Source: National Hurricane Center)

On the other end of the spectrum, a Category 5 storm – such as Irma or Michael — often destroys a high percentage of well-built structures in its path – with roof failures and walls collapsing.  A large number of toppled trees and power poles isolate entire residential areas, causing power outages that can last for months and making large areas uninhabitable for a long period of time.

However, while higher categories come with higher maximum windspeeds, those winds do not blow with the same speed everywhere. The distance between your location and the center of the storm (where the windspeeds are the highest) is often a better indicator as to what you may experience.

Your proximity to the eye of the storm plays a part

If your location is right next to the center of a Category 2 hurricane, your sustained wind speed can reach – and possibly exceed – 100 miles per hour. Well-constructed frame structures could sustain major roof and siding damage, trees could be snapped or uprooted and block numerous roads, often causing a near-total power outage that could last from several days to weeks.

At the same time, if your location is 30 miles away from a narrow Category 5 storm, your sustained winds are unlikely to exceed 60 miles per hour – falling short of a Category 1 experience, and likely avoiding significant or substantial damage.

High-resolution satellite technology improved meteorological observation platforms and the availability of reliable sources of wind speed data have made hurricane risk assessments and post-event wind footprint development more accurate. At Swiss Re Corporate Solutions, we base our parametric STORM product on sustained wind speed data for your specific location(s). And while a category could indicate what that overall wind speed range may be, it is really your proximity to the center of storm that often plays a bigger role predicting the wind speed at your location.