Adequately reflecting the severity of tropical cyclones using the new Tropical Cyclone Severity Scale


For decades, meteorologists and governments have been warning communities in coastal areas for an imminent tropical cyclone (TC) using the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale (SSHWS). The SSHWS categorizes a TC based on its maximum wind speed, and is used in defining evacuation strategies and humanitarian response. However, the SSHWS considers only the wind hazard of a TC, whereas a TC can also cause severe conditions through its high storm surges and extreme rainfall, triggering coastal and inland flooding. Consequently, the SSHWS fails to mirror the TC’s total severity. This becomes evident when looking at past events such as Hurricane Harvey (2017), which was classified as a Tropical Storm while it caused widespread flooding in the Houston (TX) area, with precipitation totals exceeding 1.5 m. Without including storm surge and rainfall information, adequate risk communication with the SSHWS can be challenging, as the public can (mistakenly) perceive a low-category TC as a low-risk TC. To overcome this, we propose the new Tropical Cyclone Severity Scale (TCSS) that includes all three major TC hazards in its classification. The new scale preserves the categorization as used in the SSHWS, to maintain familiarity amongst the general public. In addition, we extend the scale with a Category 6, to support communication about the most extreme TCs with multiple hazards. The TCSS is designed to be applied on a local-scale, hereby supporting local-scale risk communication efforts and evacuation strategies prior to a TC landfall. The scale can be used for risk communication on both the total TC risk and on the categories of the separate hazards, which can be valuable especially in cases when one hazard is the predominant risk factor, such as excess rainfall triggering flooding.

Environmental Research Letters