We keep hearing that Sandy is a Category One hurricane, but at the same time, we're told not to treat it lightly. It could be because of the way hurricanes are rated in the first place.

It’s called the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane scale. It was developed in 1971 by civil engineer Herbert Saffir and meteorologist Bob Simpson, who was the director of the National Hurricane Center at the time. The idea was to give the public an idea of the destructive force of a hurricane in a simple way, a lot like the Richter Scale rates earthquakes.

The problem with rating hurricanes simply on wind speed is that it doesn't take into consideration the size of the storm, the amount of rain the hurricane may bring, the storm surge, the expected flooding and the location. So a Category One or Two hurricane that hits a densely populated area like Sandy can do more widespread damage than a Category Four or Five would do in a rural area.

  • Officially, a Category One hurricane has very dangerous winds that will produce some damage.
  • Category Two will cause extensive damage.
  • Category Three will cause devastating damage.
  • Category Four will cause horrific damage.
  • Category Five hurricanes will cause catastrophic damage.

By the way, they're only called hurricanes in the Atlantic or the North Pacific, east of the International Date Line. In other areas, they’re called typhoons or cyclones.