In this brave new world of viral hoaxes and widespread information (if only we had a term for that), you may have seen headlines on social media in full doom and gloom mode declaring that Hurricane Irma, which is currently barreling through the Caribbean and heading towards Florida to widespread evacuations at a Category 5 level, is poised to become an unprecedented Category 6 hurricane. Well, there’s good and bad news. Yes, at sustained winds of 185 miles per hour, Irma is potentially the most powerful Atlantic hurricane on record. But even then, a Category 6 hurricane simply does not exist, nor will it ever exist.
Joel Myers, the founder and president of AccuWeather, told the New York Times this week in plain language that the scale was developed from 1 to 5, and that “when you develop a scale 1 to 5, there can’t be any Category 6.”
The purpose of the categories, known as the Saffir-Simpson scale, is to quantify a hurricane’s destructive power, and the destructive power of a Category 5 hurricane — one with sustained winds of at least 157 miles per hour — is virtually total. “A high percentage of framed homes will be destroyed, with total roof failure and wall collapse,” Dennis Feltgen, a spokesman for the National Hurricane Center, wrote in an email. “Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last for weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.”
In other words, if a Category 5 is catastrophic, as Feltgen says, what is left after catastrophic? Reassuring words, indeed. But that’s not the only misinformation going around as we prepare for Irma’s wrath, because there are also fake forecasts that have recently circulated, such as this one pointed out by the National Weather Service’s Twitter account: