Beyond the Scale: The Case for a Category 6 Hurricane

Hurricanes are classified by the Saffir-Simpson scale; a five-category rating system identifying hurricanes by wind intensity. Established in 1973, it has long been a reliable means of categorising hurricanes. Fifty years on, global temperatures are soaring, with summer 2023 being the hottest on record. As temperatures rise, so too do the frequency and intensity of these storms. In recent years, several records have been set regarding the destructive power of hurricanes. The question remains: are our governments prepared to face this threat?

Understanding Hurricane Classification: The Saffir-Simpson Scale

The Saffir-Simpson scale categorises hurricanes based on their wind intensity. Category 1 hurricanes refer to storms with sustained winds of 74 to 95 mph, uprooting trees and causing flooding in coastal areas. At the upper end of the scale, Category 5 is reserved for storms with winds of 157 mph or more. Such storms can be catastrophic. In 2017, Hurricane Maria claimed the lives of approximately 4,600 people in Puerto Rico alone. Ninety percent of deaths from tropical storms are due to the ‘storm surge’, a rapid rise in water level leading to flooding.

The Saffir-Simpson scale only monitors how strong a hurricane is at a given moment, which fails to indicate how strong it will become, where it will go, or what the hazards will look like. Advances in hurricane monitoring tools now allow for a clearer picture of the dangers posed by a given storm. As such, scientists are questioning whether the Saffir-Simpson scale adequately conveys the threat the biggest hurricanes present.

The Case for Category 6 Hurricanes

In response to the increasing intensity of tropical storms, some have proposed a sixth category of hurricane – those with sustained winds of 192 mph or more. Of all 197 Category 5 hurricanes between 1980 and 2021, only five meet this description: Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, Hurricane Patricia in 2015, Typhoon Meranti in 2016, Typhoon Goni in 2020, and Typhoon Surigae in 2021; notably, each occurred within a decade of each other. The increased power of these storms entails greater destructive potential, begging the question of whether existing disaster preparedness strategies are fit for purpose.

Real-World Impact: Preparedness Shortcomings in Recent Hurricanes

In the hours before landfall, Hurricane Ida rapidly increased in intensity. Despite New Orleans authorities having 60 hours of warning, this was too short to safely issue an evacuation order. The ensuing disaster would claim 91 lives. Effective hurricane preparedness requires early warning systems; a narrow window of time exists in which precautions can be made. And yet, Ida was a well-predicted storm, occurring in a high-income country (HIC) with the infrastructure and resources to mitigate the damage, and was only – in the scheme of things – a Category 4. Things could have been much worse. Despite a similar warning period, Typhoon Haiyan led to 6,190 deaths and the destruction of 90% of the City of Tacloban.

Therein lies the glaring inequity of climate change; those nations most at risk from a warming climate bear the smallest responsibility. If we are to adopt a sixth category, it can only be hoped that global leaders take action before the need for a seventh.


The increasing intensity of hurricanes underscores the urgent need for comprehensive climate action. As temperatures continue to rise, so too will the severity of these storms, posing significant risks to communities worldwide.

At Whitestone Chambers, we offer legal services to help businesses reach compliance with evolving environmental standards, ensuring they play a part in mitigating these risks. Global cooperation and proactive measures are essential to protect vulnerable populations and create a sustainable future.

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