what category hurricane should you evacuate

What category hurricane should you evacuate?

When hurricanes hit, the million-dollar question is whether to hit the road or hunker down.

Figuring out when to hit the road and skedaddle depends on a whole host of things. But, ultimately, you have to consider the category of the hurricane.

That is when you have to check the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.

But, even if you now about this scale, it is still important to learn, “What category hurricane do you evacuate?”

It is important to consider the categories of hurricanes, but irrespective of category, you should evacuate in case authorities recommend it. 

Why Should You Evacuate Before a Hurricane?

why should you evacuate before a hurricane

In the future, there will be more tropical storms and some seem likely to be unlike any human has witnessed. 

We are being asked to consider our own safety and plan for evacuation. But the question is, why exactly do you need to evacuate when a hurricane is imminent? 

Hurricanes Take Lives

Hurricanes have always taken lives; the highest death toll recorded was 22,000 in 1780. In 1998, Hurricane Mitch fatalities were at least 11,374.

Despite how mankind has progressed, we cannot defend ourselves against these extremes of weather.  

Flying Debris

flying debris

Most injuries and deaths are caused by flying debris caught in the hurricane’s debris flow, a technical term for anything picked up by the winds.

It includes branches, soil and plant matter, glass and dust in various sizes. 

Structural Failure

Modern houses are built to withstand hurricanes, but still fail when debris breaks windows or the wind finds a way in. Many buildings are primarily lost to flooding. 

Factors to Consider for Evacuation

factors to consider for evacuation

The authorities closely monitor developing storms.

Every administration concerned will initiate Hurricane Preparedness procedures to protect its residents from storm surges and high winds. 

Storm Surge

Storm surge is caused by the wind blowing the surface layers of the water on to land. The waters rise higher than any of the usual tides.

In fact, there have been tides as high as 33ft.

Not all coastal areas experience the same impact, it depends on the shape of the coastline, the slope of the continental shelf and the speed and direction of the winds.  

Wind Speeds

wind speeds

To be even considered a hurricane, a tropical storm has to sustain winds over 74 mph for two minutes.

However, they blow in dangerous gusts with enough force to blow a person over, if the flying debris does not get them.

It is the gusts that lift roofs and blow out windows adding shards of glass to the debris. 

Location and Elevation

If you are in a location which is not high enough, you may consider evacuating.

The best place to protect yourself and your family is inland, well away from the coast or up high.

The higher up you are, the safer you are from the surge and flooding and in hurricanes, the wind speeds decrease with altitude

Local Authorities’ Recommendations

local authorities' recommendations

You may not need to evacuate at all, not all hurricanes make it to land.

However, you should evacuate if local authorities have said so.

Authorities recommend that people stay prepared by following the weather reports, watches and warnings, and practicing what to do. 

What Category Hurricane Should You Evacuate? 

evacuation criteria for hurricanes

FEMA’s advice is simple, evacuate when ordered but it is reasonable to want to know when to expect an announcement.  

Do You Evacuate For A Category 1 Hurricane? 

All hurricanes can produce life-threatening tornadoes, floods and storm surges, which is why you may have to evacuate.

Category 1 is the first stage of development for a major hurricane, which is why as far as preparation is concerned, all developing hurricanes should be considered the next big one.

evacuation for a category 1 hurricane

A watched storm may intensify over shallower warmer waters or dissipate before reaching land.

The storm itself could last several days with periods of intense rainfall that can interfere with power, communication and food and water supplies. 

An Important Consideration

If you stay or follow the advice and leave, besides food and water your evacuation supplies should include spare cell phone batteries, cash and a first aid kit.

You will also need to collect and protect your essential documents, especially your home insurance details.

Fact: Even a category 1 is capable of windspeeds up to 95mph and surges 5 to 6 ft above normal, which typically force evacuation away from the immediate coast. 

Do You Evacuate For A Category 2 Hurricane?

evacuation for a category 2 hurricane

The advice from FEMA is to evacuate as advised before a hurricane hits.

A Category 2 hurricane can have gusting winds that exceed 100 mph that can last hours or days, which will make leaving later more difficult.

The prolonged gusting causes extensive damage even to well built homes, bringing down power poles so there will be outages.

As well as the potential for storm surge and flooding at sea level, there is a risk of urban flooding as drainage systems are overwhelmed by the high volumes of rain. 

An Important Consideration

Most of us will never experience a hurricane first-hand so in a way, it is understandable that some people will want to stay to protect their property, livestock and pets.

However, afterwards the area could be pretty much uninhabitable.  

Fact: About 60 inches of rain fell on Nederland, Texas as Hurricane Florence made landfall in 2018, and it caused long-term devastation. 

Do You Evacuate For A Category 3 Hurricane?

evacuation for a category 3 hurricane

Yes, evacuate because according to the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale hurricanes rated Category 3 and over are major hurricanes.

They flatten communities causing catastrophic damage. Evacuation is no longer recommended; it is mandatory because wind speeds can reach 129 mph and storm surges 12ft.

Thanks to the lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina, administrations in hurricane zones have mass evacuation plans and procedures to guide people to designated places of safety.

But it can be a frightening and stressful experience.

What Is Recommended in Case of a Category 3 Hurricane?

recommended actions for category 3 hurricane

It is recommended to:

  • Leave early.
  • Let someone know your evacuation route and destination.
  • Monitor the hurricane warning system.
  • Have extra fuel and a spare tire.
  • Take non-perishable foods, baby formula, and lots of drinking water.
  • Take blankets, a torch and a tin opener, plastic dishes, and utensils.
  • Take diapers, sanitizers, trash bags, a first aid kit, and prescribed medications.
  • Prepare to deal mainly in cash.
Fact: Category 1 and 2 hurricanes are considered dangerous but any hurricane over Category 3 so the potential for serious loss of life and widespread devastating damage. 

Do You Evacuate For A Category 4 Hurricane?

evacuation for a category 4 hurricane

Yes. With winds speeds that can reach 156 mph, the threat to property and life is so severe that staying in the area during a Category 4 is not an option.

With limited space and facilities at designated shelters, authorities ask residents who can make plans to leave the area completely.

Evacuation puts the entire transport network under pressure so leaving a city takes several hours.

Once evacuation is announced, authorities will begin implementing plans to evacuate the most vulnerable and those without transport. 

An Important Consideration

Category 4 hurricanes do not happen very often but they leave areas totally uninhabitable for months if not years.

The debris on the roads makes all movement in or out of the area impossible. Since 1999 there have been 36 Category 4 Atlantic hurricanes. 

Fact: In 2022, Hurricane Fiona made landfall in Canada as the third named hurricane of the season, and proved to be the most expensive Canada has so far experienced. 

Do You Evacuate For A Category 5 Hurricane? 

evacuation for a category 5 hurricane

Yes, because no living thing is safe when winds reach 157 mph.

They rip up mature trees and flatten even robust concrete buildings. Storm surges reach 25 ft. and impact far inland.

There are massive amounts of precipitation, including large hail.

Fortunately, very few develop. Only six percent since 1924, but their impact is catastrophic.

They develop when sea temperatures reach 80oC and the atmospheric conditions are exactly right. 

They may not last long but have enough power to spawn numerous tornadoes over the landmass.

Fact: On Labor Day in 1935, a Category 5 hurricane took the lives of 600 people, as tracking hurricanes then was in its infancy and the warning left little time for escape. 


What category of hurricane should you evacuate? You should evacuate whenever authorities tell you to leave the area.

They may recommend evacuation in case of category 1 or 2 hurricanes, but you must evacuate if it is Category 3 or higher.

It is true that we have infinitely better watch and warning systems now, but with the frequency and ferocity of tropical storms increasing, everyone living in a hurricane zone needs a Hurricane Preparedness Plan.