With the emergence of Hurricane Patricia that hit Mexico a few days ago, the idea that a higher scale of hurricane intensity has become a topic among conversation. So the actuality that something like this would occur has several complications that need to be considered before any type of new implementation would occur.
1. Wind Scale
The fact that the current Saffir-Simpson scale clearly marks a category 5 hurricane as winds meeting or exceeding 156 mph should be enough to keep weathermean, meteorologists, and enthusiasts at bay in terms of classification. Much like the Enhanced Fujita scale classifies tornadoes in a sequence of 0 through 5, the hurricane scale starts at tropical depression and moves up through the ranks based on maximum wind speeds. Scientists at the National Hurricane Center have been content with keeping this balance consistent over the years. One way of viewing this type of situation in action is Hurricane Wilma back in 2005. At the height of Wilma’s intensity, she bottomed out at 882 mb central pressure, and attained maximum sustained wind speeds of 183 mph, with higher gusts. At that time, similar considerations were made for possibly raising the scale to include storms that attained these heights, often times citing that super-storms like this would constitute a special designation. These ideas were quickly shot down, stating that “Category 5 storms are rare, therefore the designation was justified”.
Instituting a new scale level of Category 6 would ultimately lead to a new and full review of every hurricane that has formed in the last 120 years. This would include global storms as well, forcing a broad reclassification. This type of work would be very taxing and very expensive. The National Hurricane Center, NOAA, and the National Weather Service would not have the manpower hours to dedicate to this type of situation. Also, there would be no clear benefit to spending more than a passing glance at the idea of performing work for this endeavor. In other words, the cons far outweigh the benefits.
3. Public Identification
Government agencies like the National Weather Service as well as the National Hurricane Center tend to not follow trends and fads that pass through the public. This is because it often fades as quickly as it becomes news. A storm like Hurricane Patricia often only occurs a few times a century. Because of this, buzz rarely comes about that would call for such actions to take place, such as reclassification of storms. Storms like Hurricane Andrew back in 1992 is sill known as a category 5, which was upgraded due to on the ground research which found wind speed signatures that allowed for the upgrade. To re-identify those signatures many years later would not only be improbable in some ways, it would put into question the entire evaluation process conducted by the National Weather Service. The very integrity of the establishment could fall into question, and questions of the importance of even evaluating such storms could become a bit “hyped” or even degraded, depending on the perceived ideas behind public opinion. To eliminate this chance, they would often just toss out conflict and reject changes.
As much as it seems like a good idea, or even “cool” to create a new classification, the work and process involved would be much more than the government would deem “worth their time”. A category 6 storm would do little to enhance the current classification system, and may even confuse those in harm’s way, which might view the new classification as either a hoax or hype of a potential hurricane. For this reason, more research into public perception may need to be done before throwing a new number into the mix.