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Hurricane Scale Should Be Extended to Include a Category 6, According to Some Climate Scientists

Authors of a new study said they hope to "raise awareness that the wind-hazard risk from storms presently designated as Category 5 has increased"

<p>NOAA</p>

NOAA

  • The scale used to classify hurricanes needs to be updated, a number of scientists argued in a new study

  • A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published earlier this week argues that the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale should expand to include Category 6 storms

  • Climate change is accounting for more powerful hurricanes, the authors argued

Should there be a Category 6 hurricane designation? That is the question.

A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published earlier this week proposes creating a Category 6, which would apply to storms with 193 mph winds or more.

The extension of the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale — the system used by the National Hurricane Center to rank the strength of hurricanes — to a sixth category is warranted, authors of the study asserted.

The Saffir-Simpson scale, introduced in 1970, categorizes damage based on sustained wind speed.

"Because the scale is open-ended and does not extend beyond category 5 (70 m/s windspeed or greater), the level of wind hazard conveyed by the scale remains constant regardless of how far the intensity extends beyond 70 m/s," authors wrote. "This may be considered a weakness of the scale, particularly considering that the destructive potential of the wind increases exponentially."

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The study’s authors said climate change has affected the need for a new classification since increasing ocean temperatures are fueling larger storms.

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However, other experts have argued that adding in a Category 6 would increase the likelihood that people would underestimate storms that rank much lower  — even though storms of any strength can be deadly.

"At NHC, we've tried to steer the focus toward the individual hazards, which include storm surge, wind, rainfall, tornadoes and rip currents, instead of the particular category of the storm, which only provides information about the hazard from wind," National Hurricane Center Director Michael Brennan said in a statement to ABC News.

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From 1980 to 2021, five tropical cyclones — out of 197 — around the world have exceeded the threshold of a hypothetical Category 6 designation, CNN reported.

All five occurred within the last decade, per the outlet, including Hurricane Patricia, which hit Mexico, in 2015 and Super Typhoon Haiyan, a 2013 devastating storm in the Philippines.

"Our results are not meant to propose changes to this scale, but rather to raise awareness that the wind-hazard risk from storms presently designated as Category 5 has increased and will continue to increase under climate change," James Kossin, one author of the study, said in a statement.

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