Following Hurricane Florence Confusion, Should the Saffir-Simpson Scale Be Updated?

Hurricane Florence is a Category 5 disastrous storm.

As Hurricane Florence approached the southeastern coastline, forecasters stated that it had leaked from a Category 4 storm to a Category 1 storm — they were wrong.

“[We] didn’t think it was actually going to be as bad,” said Famous Roberts, a North Carolina corrections officer.

According to The New Republic, the hurricane ranking system — Saffir-Simpson scale — only measures hurricane danger in terms of wind speed. This system doesn’t take excessive rainfall, storm surge, or the potential for overflowing floodwaters into account. Though Hurricane Florence’s wind speeds haven’t been as bad as some of the more disastrous storms in the past, the constant flooding has certainly caused some major problems across the southeast.

Unfortunately, because residents of the Carolinas saw these reports, they canceled their evacuation plans and thought they would be able to easily handle the storm. They, too, were wrong.

“[The Saffir-Simpson scale] should definitely be modified to have some factors, including not only wind, but also flooding and maximum storm surge height, or amount of rainfall,” added Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness.

Other meteorologists, however, aren’t convinced that the system needs to be revamped — despite potential confusion it could cause.

“[The scale] provides value on the information it as intended for and is useful for historical context or scientific studies,” said Marshall Shepherd, University of Georgia meteorologist.

When it comes to hurricane protection, hurricane-resistant window and door systems are required throughout any structure. Window and door systems that have an impact-resistant glazing system of positive 105 by negative 130 are able to withstand hurricane force winds traveling more than 100 miles per hour. In order to qualify as a finished living space, a basement must meet legal egress requirements in order for safe escape or the entry of a rescue professional during an emergency.

According to the National Building Code, there are a few requirements when it comes to egress windows, including:

  • Still Height — A window’s still height should not be more than 44 inches above the floor.
  • Minimum net clear opening — A window’s minimum net clear opening should be 5.7 square feet except on grade level windows that require a minimum clear opening of 5 square feet.
  • Minimum height — A window’s minimum net clear opening height must be 24 inches.
  • Minimum width — A window’s minimum net clear opening width must be 20 inches.

Simply investing in quality hurricane resistant egress windows and adjusting a meteorological tool isn’t enough to solve all the problems caused by Hurricane Florence — something more is needed. Meteorologists might have to change the way they refer to slow-moving, rain-heavy hurricanes like Florence because though they might not seem as damaging from afar, they can be extremely devastating.

“There are significant reasons to start rethinking how we understand the consequences of large natural disasters,” Redlener added.

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