Hurricane Matthew has hit the United States, but Florida residents caught a lucky break when the storm was downgraded from Category 4 to Category 3 storm. That’s still a big deal, though, and those in the hurricane’s path may now be asking themselves: What does a Category 3 storm feel like? Is it that much less severe than a Category 4? And what do those categories mean, anyway?
The spectrum on which tropical storms and hurricanes are placed is called the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, and as the name implies, it categorizes storms based on their wind speed. While a Category 4 hurricane, which is what Matthew originally was, has sustained wind speeds of 130 to 156 mph, a Category 3 storm has winds of “only” 111 to 129 mph.
Category 3 is certainly preferable to Category 4, though, of course, the most preferable scenario would be if there wasn’t a hurricane to begin with. The fact is, a Category 3 storm is still serious business. The headline-making storm of the 2012 election cycle, Hurricane Sandy, was Category 3, but it still managed to cause $65 billion in damage in the United States, making it the second-costliest weather event in the country after Hurricane Katrina, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It also killed 159 people.
Hurricane Matthew killed at least 842 people in Haiti before it arrived stateside. So far, the storm has claimed one life in Florida and left over a million people without power, according to the Weather Channel.
“I just want to emphasize to everybody that this is still a really dangerous hurricane, [and] that the potential for storm surge, flooding, loss of life, and severe property damage continues to exist,” President Obama said in prepared remarks on Friday. “And people continue to need to follow the instructions of their local officials over the course of the next 24, 48, 72 hours.”
Hurricane Matthew is projected to sweep northward across the east coast of Florida before touching down in Georgia and South Carolina. Over 2 million people in the United States have been warned to evacuate on account of the storm; if you’d like to see if you’re in an evacuation zone, you can find out here.
And if your neighborhood has been issued an evacuation order, please, take it seriously: Some island residents who refused to evacuate Matthew are now stranded, and told the Associated Press that they regret staying put. It’s always better to be safe than sorry during a hurricane — even if it’s “only” Category 3.