TAMPA (FOX 13) - When Hurricane Florence was downgraded from a powerful Category 4 storm to a Category 1, people may have been lulled into thinking the storm was not as dangerous and did not evacuate.
"We just thought, you know, like a lot of people, didn't think it was actually going to be as bad as it did,” said North Carolina resident Famous Roberts. “But with the category drop, yes, that's another factor why we did stay."
The problem is hurricanes are categorized based on their wind strength alone.
Meteorologists point out all the risks, but some say the message isn't getting through.
"We'll say it may weaken to a Category 1 or a Category 2, but it's gonna bring catastrophic flooding,” said FOX 13 News Chief Meteorologist Paul Dellegatto. “But all they hear is it's gonna weaken to a Category 1 or a Category 2. It's all about the category, and hurricanes are more complicated than that."
Rainfall and storm surge are typically more dangerous than wind speed in a major hurricane. In fact, water is responsible for 90 percent of storm deaths.
"People need to focus on the impacts and not the category number because otherwise, we're gonna get ourselves in trouble,” National Weather Service meteorologist Brian LaMarre said.
Some experts think the scale needs to be updated so it reflects all of the risks that come with hurricanes -- especially because the storms seem to be getting wetter and slower and dropping more rain.
"I think we're going to have to have a broader conversation -- the American Meteorological Society, the National Weather Association, emergency managers, and stakeholders -- to try to find a way to convey these types of threats going forward,” said University of Georgia meteorology professor Marshall Shepherd.
Others caution giving hurricanes one overall rating could give people a false sense of security, when wind, flooding, and storm surge really affect each community differently.
"There's no one number. You just can't use one number to give everyone the risk, and that's really what it boils down to,” Dellegatto added.