Hurricane rating system fails to account for deadly rain
When meteorologists downgraded Hurricane Florence from a powerful Category 4 storm to a Category 2 and then a Category 1, Wayne Mills figured he could stick it out.
He regrets it. The Neuse River, normally 150 feet away, lapped near his door in New Bern, North Carolina, on Sunday even as the storm had "weakened" further.
People like Mills can be lulled into thinking a hurricane is less dangerous when the rating of a storm is reduced. But those ratings are based on wind strength, not rainfall or storm surge—and water is responsible for 90 percent of storm deaths .
Several meteorologists and disaster experts said something needs to change with the 47-year-old Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale to reflect the real risks in hurricanes. They point to Florence, last year's Hurricane Harvey, 2012's Sandy and 2008's Ike as storms where the official Saffir-Simpson category didn't quite convey the danger because of its emphasis on wind.
"The concept of saying 'downgraded' or 'weakened should be forever banished," said University of Georgia meteorology professor Marshall Shepherd. "With Florence, I felt it was more dangerous after it was lowered to Category 2."
It was a lowered category that helped convince Famous Roberts, a corrections officer from Trenton, to stay behind. "Like a lot of people (we) didn't think it was actually going to be as bad," he said. "With the category drop ... that's another factor why we did stay."