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Categories of Hurricanes


Hurricanes are classified into five categories, based on their wind speeds and potential to cause damage.

  • Category One -- Winds 74-95 miles per hour
  • Category Two -- Winds 96-110 miles per hour
  • Category Three -- Winds 111-130 miles per hour
  • Category Four -- Winds 131-155 miles per hour
  • Category Five -- Winds greater than 155 miles per hour

In the U.S., the official hurricane season is from June 1 to November 30, but hurricanes can happen any time of the year. Hurricanes are named by the National Weather Service. Some have been: Celia, Agnes, Eloise, Belle, and Bob.

Hurricane Terms

Hurricane Watch -- A hurricane is possible within 36 hours. Stay tuned to the radio and television for more information. The Hurricane Center is tracking the storm and trying to predict where it may come ashore.

Hurricane Warning -- A hurricane is expected within 24 hours. You may be told to evacuate. You and your family should begin making preparations to evacuate. If your area is having an evacuation, remember to take your Disaster Supply Kit. Do not forget to make plans for your pets if you must evacuate.

Naming Hurricanes

For hundreds of year, hurricanes in the West Indies were named after the particular saint's day on which the hurricane occurred. An Australian meteorologist began giving women's names to tropical storms before the end of the 19th century. In 1953, the U.S. National Weather Service, which is the federal agency that tracks hurricanes and issues warnings and watches, began using female names for storms.

In 1979, both women and men's names were used. One name for each letter of the alphabet is selected, except for Q, U and Z. For Atlantic Ocean hurricanes, the names may be French, Spanish or English, since these are the major languages bordering the Atlantic Ocean where the storm occur.

So who decides what names are used each year? The World Meteorological Organization uses six lists in rotation. The same lists are reused every six years. The only time a new name is added is if a hurricane is very deadly or costly. Then the name is retired and a new name is chosen.

Retiring Names

Whenever a hurricane has had a major impact, any country affected by the storm can request that the name of the hurricane be “retired” by agreement of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). Retiring a name actually means that it cannot be reused for at least 10 years, to facilitate historic references, legal actions, insurance claim activities, etc. and avoid public confusion with another storm of the same name. If that happens, a like gender name is selected in English, Spanish or French for Atlantic Storms.

There is an exception to the retirement rule, however. Before 1979, when the first permanent six-year storm name list began, some storm names were simply not used anymore. For example, in 1966, “Fern” was substituted for “Frieda,” and no reason was cited.

Below is a list of Atlantic Ocean retired names, the years the hurricanes occurred, and the areas they affected. There are, however, a great number of destructive storms that occurred before hurricanes were first named in 1950, that are not included on this list.
Atlantic Storms Retired Into Hurricane History
Agnes (1972§*): Florida, Northeast U.S.
Alicia (1983*): North Texas
Allen (1980*): Antilles, Mexico, South Texas
Andrew (1992*): Bahamas, South Florida, Louisiana
Anita (1977): Mexico
Audrey (1957§*): Louisiana, North Texas
Betsy (1965§*): Bahamas, Southeast Florida, Southeast Louisiana
Beulah (1967*): Antilles, Mexico, South Texas
Bob (1991*): North Carolina & Northeast U.S.
Camille (1969§*): Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama
Carla (1961§*): Texas
Carmen (1974): Mexico, Central Louisiana
Carol (1954§*): Northeast U.S.
Celia (1970*): South Texas
Cleo (1964*): Lesser Antilles, Haiti, Cuba, Southeast Florida
Connie (1955§): North Carolina
David (1979): Lesser Antilles, Hispañola, Florida and Eastern U.S.
Diana (1990): Mexico
Diane (1955§*): Mid-Atlantic U.S. & Northeast U.S.
Donna (1960§*): Bahamas, Florida and Eastern U.S.
Dora (1964*): Northeast Florida
Elena (1985*): Mississippi, Alabama, Western Florida
Eloise (1975*): Antilles, Northwest Florida, Alabama
Flora (1963): Haiti, Cuba
Frederic (1979*): Alabama and Mississippi
Gilbert (1988): Lesser Antilles, Jamaica, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico
Gloria (1985*): North Carolina, Northeast U.S.
Hattie (1961): Belize, Guatemala
Hazel (1954§*): Antilles, North and South Carolina
Hilda (1964§*): Louisiana
Hugo (1989*): Antilles, South Carolina
Ione (1955*): North Carolina
Inez (1966): Lesser Antilles, Hispanola, Cuba, Florida Keys, Mexico
Janet (1955): Lesser Antilles, Belize, Mexico
Joan (1988): Curacao, Venezuela, Colombia, Nicaragua (Crossed into the Pacific and became Miriam)
Klaus (1990): Martinique
Mitch (1998): Central America, Nicaragua, Honduras

§Within the list of top 37 deadliest U.S. hurricanes
* Within the list of the top 31 costliest U.S. hurricanes (in 1990 dollars)
(Measurements only available through 1992 for storms that affected the U.S.)

Source: NOAA.



Scientists track hurricanes using satellite images such as this one of Hurricane Floyd.

Courtesy of NOAA

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