Hurricane Irma is rapidly moving through the Atlantic and could reach the continental U.S. next weekend. As the storm gained momentum, it was labeled a Category 5 hurricane Tuesday morning. Hurricane Harvey was a destructive force in Texas just a few weeks ago, and Hurricane Irma could bring more flooding and damage to the Southeast. As hurricane season continues, there are a few things everyone needs to know about the different stages of hurricanes.
Let's be real: The word "hurricane" sounds bad in and of itself, which makes it difficult to keep track of what all the official classifications mean. The most important fact to remember is that the storms are ranked on a scale of one to five, rising in intensity as the number increases.
But let's walk through what's expected in each stage.
Category 1 hurricanes have the lowest wind speeds. They can lead to some roof damage and cause large tree branches to snap, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC), but they aren't catastrophic.
The next level of storms are described by the NHC as having extremely dangerous winds, up to 110 mph. With these, you can expect near-total power loss that could last weeks.
Once a storm is classified as Category 3, it's considered a major hurricane. They can have wind speeds up to 129 mph and can cause major damage to homes. Electricity and water will likely be unavailable for several days to weeks, according to the NHC.
Increasing in severity, Category 4 hurricanes can cause catastrophic damage. These storms can produce gusts up to 156 mph, causing a lot of trees to be snapped or uprooted and power poles to fall. "Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months," the NHC's website says.
Hurricane Katrina reached Category 5 before ripping through southeast Louisiana in 2005. Storms with winds 157 mph or higher fall under this descriptor (Katrina reached 175 mph). Causing even more damage than a Category 4, residents won't be able to return to the affected areas for months.
If you live in an area expected to be impacted, read up on FEMA's hurricane safety tips to make sure you're prepared before the storm hits and know what to do during.
This story was originally published on August 25, 2017.