Hurricane categories don’t tell the whole story

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NARRAGANSETT, R.I. (WPRI) — A prominent hurricane researcher at the University of Rhode Island says he’s not a big fan of the current hurricane category system.

Before she even made landfall in North Carolina, Hurricane Florence dropped from a Category 4 to a Category 1. Dr. Isaac Ginis feels Hurricane Florence is one of many examples in which the current hurricane category system sends the wrong message.

“Some people decided to stay, because they just thought the storm was not very dangerous, and that led to a number of deaths, and mostly because of the rising water,” Ginis said.

According to Ginis, the primary flaw in the system is the fact it does not take into account flooding, especially flooding from excessive rainfall.

“Historically we know that most people die in storms from the inland flooding, rather than the wind damage,” Ginis explained.

The categories are based on the Saffer-Simpson scale, which accounts for wind speed only. Therefore, Hurricane Florence’s Category 1 status conveyed no information about it’s devastating rainfall.

While the National Hurricane Center does issue rainfall and storm surge maps, Ginis wants to improve the forecasts by adding more specific wording. He is currently working on 3D models that could show rainfall flooding threats down to street level detail.

That will be especially important for slow moving storms similar to Hurricane Florence and Hurricane Harvey.

“If a storm slows down, it can stall in the same place,” he said. “The combination of storm surge and inland flooding could be extremely dangerous.”

Ginis says because of climate change, some studies suggest that future hurricanes and tropical storms could move even slower. This means future storms could have even more catastrophic floods from storm surge and rainfall.

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