NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Hurricane Dorian made landfall as a Category 5 and downgraded to a 4, but one student at Tennessee State University says those numbers don’t tell a storm’s true story.
Kyra Bryant is a Ph.D. student who has dedicated her career to adjusting the hurricane scale hoping to better inform people of such a storm’s danger. She says Hurricane Dorian is the perfect example of what’s wrong with the scale.
“This one has been really, really interesting to watch because at first, we thought it was going to hit Orlando, then we thought it was going to hit Jupiter, then we were back to Orlando and now we’re saying not at all. It just goes to show how many factors go into a hurricane,” Bryant said.
Factors such as wind field and beta drift determine a hurricane’s path, but its category is only calculated by the wind.
“It does not include any storm surge, it does not include any flooding or rain, just solely wind,” she said.
“The Saffir Simpson Scale was created in 1969, it’s a really basic scale one through five because back then, they didn’t have anything to classify hurricanes,” Bryant explained, “So they came up with this scale and they wanted it to be as absolutely simple as possible for the public to understand, which it is, but the thing is it only includes the wind, and all of the hazards, all of the damage, and the fatalities, mostly comes from the flood and the surge.
With winds gusting up to 185 miles per hour, Hurricane Dorian hit the Bahamas as a Category 5 Sunday. She then continued crawling across the islands at 1 mile per hour. Losing momentum on land, she downgraded to a 4 Monday morning, edging her way back into the water towards the U.S.
“It’s a very large hurricane, the outer bands are still going to have a whole lot of rain, and especially low lying areas along the coast, are still prone to flooding,” Bryant said.
Bryant added that we should have learned from flooding storms like Hurricane Katrina in 2005 to as recent as Michael last year.
“One thing I think that would help is to make the categories continuous. So for instance, Michael last year, was two miles per hour away from being a Category 5, so if the news could have said it’s a Category 4.9, we would know that it’s approaching a 5 and that it’s getting stronger because going from a 4 to 5 is a big difference in damage,” she explained, “I don’t think we should totally get rid of the Saffir Simpson scale, I think that we need to just include the surge in there. So maybe have a Category 2 with high surge or high flooding.”
News 2 Meteorologist Davis Nolan said the Hurricane Center has worked very hard to keep hurricanes as simple as possible for people to understand.
He said they always report storm surge, just separate from the category number.
Bryant is currently writing her dissertation on what she says are the flaws with the Saffir Simpson Scale.
She plans to visit Florida and the Bahamas next month to include Hurricane Dorian in her research.