Hurricane Ian: What to expect after a Category 4 storm makes landfall

Hurricane Ian took aim at Florida’s Sanibel Island on Wednesday morning, packing near-Category 5 winds of 155 mph expected to bring “catastrophic” damage to a large swath of the Sunshine State.

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According to the Saffir-Simpson scale, which rates a storm’s potential for damage based on its sustained wind speed, Ian’s strong Category 4 status as its eyewall moved ashore on Florida’s west coast spelled potentially devastating consequences for anyone in the storm’s path.

As per the National Hurricane Center, Category 4 storms typically yield the following:

  • Well-built framed homes can sustain severe damage with loss of most of the roof structure and/or some exterior walls.
  • Most trees will be snapped or uprooted.
  • Power poles downed.
  • 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.

Aside from higher wind speed, the defining difference between a Category 4 and Category 5 storm, according to the agency, is severe damage to most man-made structures in the storm’s path vs. complete destruction of the structures.

In addition, the NHC warns that Category 4 storms bring a “high risk of injury or death” due to the amount of debris flying through the air, the Sun Herald in Biloxi, Mississippi reported.

Only five Category 5 storms have made landfall in the U.S. in the past 100 years with sustained winds of 157 mph and above, including:

  • The San Felipe II Hurricane that struck Puerto Rico in 1928, killing 300 people and destroying thousands of homes.
  • The Labor Day Hurricane that struck the Florida Keys in 1935, destroying a hotel and sweeping out to sea hundreds of World War I veterans who were being evacuated on a train as the storm surge came in.
  • Hurricane Camille that struck Louisiana and Mississippi in 1969, reaching maximum sustained winds of at least 175 mph before knocking out wind speed recording devices at landfall. The direct impact killed 143 people, while ensuing flash flood killed another 113 people in West Virginia.
  • Hurricane Andrew that killed 61 people when it made landfall near Homestead, Florida, in 1992, with sustained winds of 165 mph.
  • Hurricane Michael that killed 40 people after it made landfall near Mexico Beach, Florida, in 2018.
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