Hurricane Irma 2017: What Is a Category 5 Storm?

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Getty People put boards on their windows as part of preparations for arrival of Hurricane Irma on September 5, 2017 in Marigot, on the French overseas island of Saint-Martin.

Hurricane Irma has intensified to a Category 5 storm. So, what does this mean?

The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale runs from a Category 1 through a Category 5, and Category 5 is classified as 157-plus mph winds, according to With a Category 5 storm, comes catastrophic damage, flooding and destruction. In the past, the concept of a Category 6 storm has been mulled over, but ABC News reports that Category 5 is the highest official measure, based on damage that can impact man-made structures. The National Hurricane Center has reported the following as the damage possibly sustained in a Category 5 hurricane:

A high percentage of framed homes will be destroyed, with total roof failure and wall collapse. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last for weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.

Category 5 hurricanes are tropical cyclones and the definition of a tropical cyclone is, “a violent storm originating over tropical or subtropical waters, characterized by violent rainstorms and high-velocity cyclonic winds.”

The National Weather Service reports that Hurricane Irma is becoming one of the strongest storms in history, sustaining maximum winds of 175 mph. This morning, the National Hurricane Center released the following statement about Irma:

NOAA and U.S. Air Force Hurricane Hunter aircraft have recently measured peak flight-level winds of around 170 kt and SFMR winds of around 150 kt. Based on these data the initial intensity has been increased to 150 kt, making Irma an extremely dangerous category 5 hurricane … It is still too early to determine what direct impacts Irma might have on the continental United States. However, everyone in hurricane-prone areas should ensure that they have their hurricane plan in place.

Hurricane Irma is currently headed west toward the Caribbean Islands and is bound for South Florida thus far.

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