How is coronavirus affecting storm names?
Hurricane Dorian razed the northern Bahamas, splintering homes and feeding them to the sea before turning its fury on North Carolina, where it made landfall Sept. 6 as a Category 1 cyclone.
But Dorian’s name won’t be retired this year as is the tradition with deeply devastating storms because the group that oversees the master catalog of monikers has been sidelined by the coronavirus.
The World Meteorological Organization, keeper of the six-year rotating list of cyclone names, was scheduled to meet in Panama last month with an agenda that annually includes requests from countries to retire hurricane names that caused significant damage or deaths. The WMO meeting was cut short, held by video conference, with no room for retirement pleas.
Instead, Dorian’s retirement will be considered in the spring of 2021, along with any names needing to be abolished from the 2020 hurricane season.
“The idea is that the name itself is psychologically associated with that particularly destructive event, and is not just a name anymore,” said Brian McNoldy, a senior research associate with the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, about why names are retired. “We can safely assume the name Dorian will never be used again.”
Even without banishment this year, Dorian wouldn’t be used again until 2025.
But it’s not the only 2019 tropical system that may see a retirement.
“I expect Tropical Storm Imelda will get its name retired,” said Jeff Masters, Weather Underground cofounder and a meteorologist for Scientific American. “With damages estimated at $5 billion, it certainly would qualify.”
Imelda was a short-lived tropical storm that formed just 20 nautical miles south-southwest of Freeport, Texas on Sept 17. It quickly weakened into a depression after landfall, but a steady feed of tropical moisture from the Gulf of Mexico produced widespread rainfall amounts of greater than 30 inches. The highest rainfall was 44.29 inches recorded 2 miles south-southwest of Fannett, Texas, according to the National Hurricane Center.
That peak rainfall amount made Imelda the seventh wettest tropical cyclone to impact the United States. The system’s wind speed never topped 46 mph.
Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach agreed Imelda was a good candidate for retirement, and said Hurricane Lorenzo may also have a chance at banishment.
On Sept. 28, Lorenzo exploded to a Cat 5 cyclone about 1,400 miles southwest of the Azores. Lorenzo's location made history as the farthest east Cat 5 hurricane on record, reaching its pinnacle of intensity around 45 degrees west, according to Klotzbach.
But it also was the second-deadliest tropical cyclone of 2019, with 19 deaths directly attributed to its winds and waves. It notably killed 11 crew members of the French oceanic tugboat Bourbon Rhode, and eight people along the U.S. East Coast.
Lorenzo brought sustained hurricane-force winds of 74 mph to Corvo Island — the northernmost island in the Azores.
“Winds of this strength have rarely been experienced in the Azores, and Lorenzo caused major damage, particularly on Flores,” Masters said. “The government estimated damage at $367 million — primarily to port infrastructure — making Lorenzo the costliest hurricane in Azores history.”
Following the hyper-active hurricane year of 2017, four names were retired — Harvey, Irma, Maria and Nate. They were replaced with Harold, Idalia, Margot and Nigel.
Michael and Florence were retired after the 2018 season, replaced by Francine and Milton.
The 2004 and 2005 seasons saw multiple names retired, including, Charley, Frances, Ivan, Jeanne, Dennis, Katrina, Rita, Stan and Wilma.
Since 1954, 89 Atlantic tropical cyclone names have been retired.
Storms with names that begin with the letter I have been retired 10 times, making I-names the most likely to be stricken. C-named storms are in second place at nine times.
The retirement is a subjective decision by a committee of the WMO, and sometimes very damaging hurricanes aren’t retired.
Masters said seven hurricanes that did more than $1 billion in damage are still in rotation, including 2012’s Hurricane Isaac, which caused about $2.4 billion in damages.
Retired Atlantic tropical cyclone names since 1990
1990: Diana, Klaus
1995: Luis, Marilyn, Opal, Roxanne
1996: Cesar, Fran, Hortense
1998: Georges, Mitch
1999: Floyd, Lenny
2001: Allison, Iris, Michelle
2002: Isidore, Lili
2003: Fabian, Isabel, Juan
2004: Charely, Frances, Ivan, Jeanne
2005: Dennis, Katrina, Rita, Stan, Wilma
2007: Dean, Felix, Noel
2008: Gustav, Ike, Paloma
2010: Igor, Tomas
2015: Erika, Joaquin
2016: Matthew, Otto
2017: Harvey, Irma, Maria, Nate
2018: Florence, Michael
Source: National Hurricane Center