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Should there be a Category 6 for extremely powerful hurricanes?

Scientists behind a new study are proposing adapting the scale that measures the intensity of hurricanes to account for stronger storms.

On Monday, a pair of scientists published a research article exploring the "growing inadequacy" of the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale and possibly adding a Category 6.

The Saffir-Simpson scale currently goes from Category 1 to 5, with a Category 5 hurricane packing sustained winds of 157 mph or greater. The study, published on Feb. 5, explores the "growing inadequacy" of the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale and suggests adding a Category 6 by capping Category 5 storms at 192 mph. Anything above that would become a Category 6 hurricane.

During an interview on AccuWeather Prime, AccuWeather Chief Meteorologist Jon Porter discussed the ongoing debate over adding a Category 6 or even higher. "We do not see the need for the addition of a Category 6 to the Saffir-Simpson scale because experience shows that for Category 5 storms, the damage to most structures is catastrophic, with many buildings destroyed in a landfalling Category 5 hurricane, such as Hurricane Michael."

NOAA's GOES-East captured this image of Hurricane Michael as it came ashore near Mexico Beach, Florida on Oct. 10, 2018. According to the National Hurricane Center, Michael intensified before landfall with maximum sustained winds of 160 mph, heavy rainfall, and deadly storm surge. (Image credit: NOAA)

Porter says that for a scale to have value, it needs to help people make better decisions in order to save lives and protect property. "It is not evident how having an additional category on the Saffir-Simpson wind scale would improve preparation or decisions."

There is concern that adding additional numbers to the existing scale could have the opposite effect intended and reduce people's sense of urgency or need to prepare for lower-ranked Category 2 or 3 storms on the Saffir-Simpson scale. This could be a serious public safety issue, especially if those storms are accompanied by significant storm surge or flooding rain risks not incorporated into the Saffir-Simpson scale, which classifies wind speed only.

Founder and Executive Chairman Dr. Joel Myers said those inadequacies of the Saffir-Simpson Scale are why AccuWeather launched the AccuWeather RealImpact™ Scale for Hurricanes. "For decades, AccuWeather has helped to protect people and property by using the practical application of science to benefit humanity. The Saffir-Simpson scale on its own doesn't capture all the severe impacts of hurricanes and tropical storms, such as coastal storm surge and flooding rainfall, which, on average, are the primary cause of death and destruction due to hurricanes."

Unlike the limited Saffir-Simpson scale, which accounts only for wind speed, the more comprehensive AccuWeather RealImpact Scale for Hurricanes is based on a variety of diverse contributing factors, such as flooding rain, high winds and storm surge as well as the total damage and economic impact from the storm. The unique scale informs people about the real impacts of a storm, so they can utilize the most accurate information to make the best decisions to protect themselves, their families and property from all of the dangers and risks of tropical storms and hurricanes.