Historically, until the early 1950s, tropical storms and hurricanes were tracked by year and the order in which they occurred. With time it became apparent that the use of short, easily remembered names that were written and spoken communications was quicker and reduce confusion when two or more tropical storms occurred at the same time.
The United States began using female names for storms in 1953, and by 1978, both male and female names were used to identify Northern Pacific storms. In 1979, this was also adapted for storms in the Atlantic basin.
While NOAA’s National Hurricane Center is responsible for issuing tropical cyclone forecasts and warnings for both the Atlantic and eastern North Pacific basins, it is the World Meteorological Organization that controls the naming of tropical storms. They have established a strict procedure for the process. For Atlantic hurricanes, there is a list of male and female names which are used on a six-year rotation. Should there be more than twenty-one named tropical cyclones occur in season, any additional storms would take names from the Greek alphabet.
The only change to this procedure is if a storm is so deadly or destructive that the future use of its name on a different storm would be insensitive.
In April, the World Meteorological Organization’s Region IV Hurricane Committee officially retired the names Harvey, Irma, Maria and Nate. The committee selected the replacement names and they are Harold, Idalia, Margot and Nigel. They will first appear in the 2023 list of storm names.
Harvey, was a category 4 hurricane that hit the Texas coast in August, dropped historic rainfall amounts, causing flooding and deaths of at least 68 people. It is the second costliest hurricane in U.S. history behind Katrina in 2005.
Irma, was a category 5 hurricane that made seven landfalls across the northern Caribbean islands in September. It then struck southwestern Florida as a category 3. Irma caused 44 direct deaths as a result of its strong winds, heavy rain and high surf.
Maria, was a category was a category 5 hurricane that ravaged the Island of Dominica in September and then devastated Puerto Rico as a high end category 4 hurricane. Maria is the third costliest hurricane in U.S. history. Maria caused 31 direct deaths with 34 missing in Dominica, and two direct deaths in Guadeloupe. The death toll in Puerto Rico stands at 65.
Nate, in October, crossed northeastern Nicaragua and eastern Honduras as a tropical storm, then made landfall on the northern Gulf Coast as a category 1 hurricane. It brought rainfall that caused significant impacts in Central America where media reports indicate that it caused 44 deaths in the region.
Photo courtesy of NOAA