Four storms from the 2017 hurricane season will live forever in history books for the carnage they wrought, but their names will never be used again.
Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria and Nate were struck this week from the rotating list of tropical cyclone names by the World Meteorological Organization, which is meeting in Martinique for its annual hurricane conference.
The banishment of four or more names from a single Atlantic hurricane season has only happened three times before, including in 2005 when a record five names were permanently stricken.
It is testament to the amount of destruction and deaths caused by the 2017 storms, three of which — Harvey, Irma and Maria — are in the top 5 costliest hurricanes on record.
Of those four, Hurricane Irma had the biggest impact on Palm Beach County, at one point looking like Category 4 or 5 a direct hit here before it turned slightly west and making landfall in Cudjoe Key on Sept. 10 with 130 mph winds. Still, Palm Beach County suffered tremendous damage from the wind and power outages. It was the first major hurricane to make landfall in Florida since 2005.
“When you have a devastating hurricane, it is an excellent thing to remove a name, because we are all a little bit superstitious, and who wants to hear that name again,” said Janet Wimmer, a Jensen Beach resident who evacuated during Irma. “If you hear the name again, you will say ‘Oh me,’ and remember everything about it.”
Harvey, Irma, Maria and Nate will be replaced by Harold, Idalia, Margot and Nigel.
Tropical cyclone names are selected by the WMO and are usually common names associated with the ethnicity of the basin affected by the storms. The names are on a six-year rotating list, with 2018’s names a repeat of 2012.
“For example, in the Atlantic basin, the majority of storms have English names, but there are also a number of Hispanic-origin names as well as a few French names,” said National Hurricane Center spokesman Dennis Feltgen during an interview about why 2015’s Hurricane Henri wasn’t Hurricane Henry. “For the eastern North Pacific basin, the majority of names are of Hispanic origin, as the impacted countries are Mexico, Guatemala, and other nations of Central America.”
Hurricanes began getting names in 1950 based on the phonetic alphabet. That was abandoned in 1953 when hurricanes started being named after women only. In 1978, men’s names were added to the hurricane list.
Eighty-six names have been retired from the Atlantic basin list since 1954.
There will never be another Hurricane Andrew, after the devastating 1992 Category 5 storm.
The 2004 and 2005 seasons saw multiple names retired, including, Charley, Frances, Ivan, Jeanne, Dennis, Katrina, Rita, Stan and Wilma.
Hurricane Joaquin is off the list after the 2015 storm killed 33 people on the cargo ship El Faro when it sank near Crooked Island in the Bahamas. Hurricanes Matthew and Otto were retired after the 2016 season, replaced with Martin and Owen.
One name that remains on the list, despite killing more than 1,100 Haitians in 1994, is Gordon. According to Weather Underground co-founder Jeff Masters, Haiti did not submit a request to the WMO to have the name Gordon retired, so it remains and could be used this year.
Rick Knabb, a hurricane expert for The Weather Channel and former director of the National Hurricane Center, said choosing replacement names isn’t always easy.
“The names are real-time and historical communication devices, and must be relatively short, easy to pronounce by people in all countries in the region, and not offensive or distracting,” Knabb said Thursday in a social media post.
Storms with names that begin with the letter I have been retired 11 times, making I-names the most likely to be stricken. C-named storms are in second place at 9 times, according to Brian McNoldy, senior research associate at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science.
Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria were Category 4 storms that made landfall in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, respectively.
Hurricane Nate, was a Category 1 storm that made landfall near Biloxi, Miss. on Oct. 8. It caused estimated damages of $225 million to property and agriculture in the U.S. Nate’s heavy rains over Central America produced widespread flooding that contributed to the deaths of 44 people in the region.
For Hurricane Irma, it was the first and last time the name will be used. Irma replaced Irene, which was retired after the 2011 hurricane season.
“For the people I know who suffered through Irma, it’s great to get rid of it,” Wimmer said. “Just let it go.”
2018 storm names
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