A Storm By Any Other Name

 
 

Each year, scientists attempt to predict how the Atlantic hurricane season will play out. It is difficult to forecast exactly how often the wind will blow, but two scientists, Dr. William Gray and Phil Klotzbach from Colorado State University?s Tropical Meteorology Project, have become pretty good at it. Last year, for example, they predicted 18 named storms. At the end of the season, there were 19.

The Terrible 75

Each year, the World Meteorological Organization decides which hurricanes from the previous year were so destructive that their names should be retired. After the brutal 2005 season, for example, the organization retired five names (Dennis, Katrina, Rita, Stan and Wilma). By contrast, it retired none after the relatively benign 2009 season.

This year, due to the damage they inflicted in 2010, both Igor and Tomas have been enshrined in what could be considered the Hurricane Hall of Fame, rounding out the full list at an even 75 names retired.
1. Agnes (1972)
2. Alicia (1983)
3. Allen (1980)
4. Allison (2001)
5. Andrew (1992)
6. Anita (1977)
7. Audrey (1957)
8. Betsy (1965)
9. Beulah (1967)
10. Bob (1991)
11. Camille (1969)
12. Carla (1961)
13. Carmen (1974)
14. Carol (1954)
15. Celia (1970)
16. Cesar (1996)
17. Charley (2004)
18. Cleo (1964)
19. Connie (1955)
20. David (1979)
21. Dean (2007)
22. Dennis (2005)
23. Diana (1990)
24. Diane (1955)
25. Donna (1960)
26. Dora (1964)
27. Edna (1968)
28. Elena (1985)
29. Eloise (1975)
30. Fabian (2003)
31. Felix (2007)
32. Fifi (1974)
33. Flora (1963)
34. Floyd (1999)
35. Fran (1996)
36. Frances (2004)
37. Frederic (1979)
38. Georges (1998)
39. Gilbert (1988)
40. Gloria (1985)
41. Gustav (2008)
42. Hattie (1961)
43. Hazel (1954)
44. Hilda (1964)
45. Hortense (1996)
46. Hugo (1989)
47. Igor (2010)
48. Ike (2008)
49. Inez (1966)
50. Ione (1955)
51. Iris (2001)
52. Isabel (2003)
53. Isidore (2002)
54. Ivan (2004)
55. Janet (1955)
56. Jeanne (2004)
57. Joan (1988)
58. Juan (2003)
59. Katrina (2005)
60. Keith (2000)
61. Klaus (1990)
62. Lenny (1999)
63. Lili (2002)
64. Luis (1995)
65. Marilyn (1995)
66. Michelle (2001)
67. Mitch (1998)
68. Noel (2007)
69. Opal (1995)
70. Paloma (2008)
71. Rita (2005)
72. Roxanne (1995)
73. Stan (2005)
74. Tomas (2010)
75. Wilma (2005)

This was not just dumb luck. The previous year, they predicted 11 and there were actually nine. In 2008, they expected 15 and there were 16. The prior season, they went with 17 and there were 15. In fact, the last time they were off by more than two was 2006 when they missed badly, predicting 17 when only 10 occurred.

This recent string of success may make it seem like the season is easy to gauge. It is not. There are so many factors at play. In fact, it is difficult to even pronounce the names of some of the meteorological and oceanic phenomena that Gray and Klotzbach rely on when making their forecasts — let alone determine how they will all interact with Mother Nature. But it is critical to understand factors such as the El Ni?o/La Ni?a cycle (a South Pacific climate pattern that affects the amount of storm-destroying ?windshear?), the thermohaline circulation (a global ocean current guided by water density and salt content) and the Atlantic multidecadal oscillation (a cycle of warmer and cooler sea-surface temperatures).

With this year?s hurricane season only a month away, Gray and Klotzbach are once again predicting an active year with 16 named storms, nine hurricanes and five ?major? hurricanes. Media outlets will tout these predictions as especially indicative of the season to come, despite the fact that even the scientists themselves admit that they are merely best guesses. Informed guesses, sure — but still just guesses. Really, no one knows how many storms will make landfall in the United States.

But no matter how many storms form, there is one thing we do know: there will not be any hurricanes named Igor or Tomas because both names have now been retired from the list of possible names. Hurricane names are never used two years in a row anyway, but had they not been retired, both Igor and Tomas would have gone back into circulation for reuse in 2016. But the World Meteorological Organization deemed both forever retired because Hurricane Igor killed four people and caused $200 million in damages, mostly in Newfoundland Canada, and Hurricane Tomas killed 69 killed and did $626 million in damages in the Caribbean.

As for the storm names that you will see this summer and fall, the list includes the following: Arlene, Bret, Cindy, Don, Emily, Franklin, Gert, Harvey, Irene, Jose, Katia, Lee, Maria, Nate, Ophelia, Philippe, Rina, Sean, Tammy, Vince and Whitney. Communities and insurers across the United States hope most of them will not be used.

 
Jared Wade

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About the Author

Jared Wade is a freelance writer and the former senior editor of Risk Management.

 
 
 

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