If Hurricane Matthew Is Anything Like These Past Hurricanes, A Category 3 Storm Is Nothing To Take Lightly

After devastating the Caribbean, Hurricane Matthew is headed for the southeastern United States, including Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. Currently, Hurricane Matthew is a Category 3 storm on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, with wind speeds from 111 to 129 mph. The scale goes up to Category 5, which Matthew reached from Sept. 30 to Oct. 1, according to the National Hurricane Center. Though Matthew slowed to a Category 3 hurricane on Friday morning as it approached the United States, it's still capable of doing a great deal of damage.

During its Category 5 stage, Matthew was the first Atlantic hurricane to reach such wind speeds since Hurricane Felix in 2007. With it having been quite a while since the United States' last direct experience with such a powerful hurricane, you may be wondering what kinds of impacts similar hurricanes have had in the past.

Hurricane winds from both Category 4 and Category 5 hurricanes are expected to cause "catastrophic" damage. According to the National Hurricane Center, this means that even well-built houses will likely sustain severe damage or be destroyed; the exterior walls and roof structure may be irrevocably damaged. Trees will no doubt be uprooted and broken, as will power poles, thus isolating residential areas. Power outages could last weeks, and the area could be uninhabitable for months until the damage is repaired.

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The descriptions of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes most likely remind Americans of more recent storms like Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, which were the costliest and second-most costliest hurricanes in American history, doing $108 billion and $74 billion in damages, respectively, according to the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). But Katrina and Sandy weren't even in Category 4 when they made their landfalls; in fact, they had weakened to Category 3 storms before striking the continental United States. If Category 3 storms can do that much damage, then people in impacted states should be taking Matthew very, very seriously.

Eleven years ago, Hurricane Wilma became the most intense Atlantic storm ever measured, with peak speeds of 184 mph, the Washington Post reported. In fact, 2005 was the year with the most Category 5 storms on record. Five years had two Category 5 storms on record, none had three, and only 2005 had four Category 5 storms: Emily, Katrina, Rita, and Wilma.

The effects of Hurricane Katrina can still be felt to this day, more than a decade later. During the storm, 1,833 people died, 40 percent of them from drowning, according to the NOAA. The population of New Orleans has dropped by around 100,000 since the 2000 census. Besides the physical damage Katrina did to New Orleans (which included damaging 70 percent of occupied housing units, UPI reported), social scientists estimate that the "botched" response to the natural disaster impacted the development of 160,000 children, according to the Hechinger Report. Today, "Louisiana has the country's highest rate of young adults not in school or working," Rolling Stone reported. Thousands were displaced by the storm and families were separated; the average displaced child moved an average of seven times. It's hard to see how this wouldn't have lasting impacts on a young person's life.

Hopefully, Matthew doesn't do the kind of permanent damage Katrina and Sandy did. But if it does, the government and emergency management organizations will need to do a better job to support people than they did in the aftermath of Katrina.