Hurricanes Igor and Tomas get their names retired

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 8:19 PM GMT on March 27, 2011

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The names Tomas and Igor will no longer be used to name hurricanes in the Atlantic, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) announced this March. Hurricane Igor made landfall near Cape Race, Newfoundland on September 21, 2010, and was that island's most damaging hurricane in 75 years, with $200 million in damage. Hurricane Tomas smashed through the Lesser Antilles Islands on October 30 - 31, 2010, dealing a particularly harsh blow to St. Lucia, where eight died and damage was estimated at $500 million. Tomas also killed 35 people on Haiti, and contributed to a cholera epidemic that killed thousands.


Figure 1. Little Barsway bridge 10 km north of Grand Bank, Newfoundland, after flood waters from Hurricane Igor swept it away. Image credit: George J.B. Rose.


Figure 2. MODIS satellite image of Tropical Storm Tomas taken at 10:30am EDT Saturday October 30, 2010, as the storm began lashing the Lesser Antilles. At the time, Tomas was a Category 1 hurricane with 75 mph winds. Image credit: NASA.

The retirement of hurricane names
The WMO maintains a list of hurricane names for the Atlantic and Eastern Pacific that repeats itself every six years. The names Igor and Tomas in the Atlantic would have appeared again in 2016, but will be replaced by Ian and Tobias. Each spring, the WMO meets to decide if any names should be retired from the list, due to notable death or destruction caused by one of the past season's storms. Any country that is a member of the WMO can request that a name be retired. If a country seriously affected by a hurricane does not request retirement of the name, then the name will not be retired. In the recent past, Mexico, in particular, has been reluctant to request retirement significant storms that have affected them. In 2010, two significant hurricanes affected the country, but Mexico chose not to request retirement of either: Hurricane Alex, which killed twelve people and did $1.5 billion in damage, and Hurricane Karl, which killed 22 and did $206 million in damage. Back in 2005, Mexico also did not request retirement of Hurricane Emily, which made two landfalls in Mexico as a major hurricane, destroying thousands of buildings, but not claiming any lives. A new storm named Emily will appear this year, as we are recycling the names from 2005 that were not retired (2005 holds the record for most retired names, with five.) Probably the best example of a hurricane that did not get its name retired, but deserved to, was Hurricane Gordon of 1994, which killed 1145 people on Haiti. Haiti did not send a representative to the 1995 WMO meeting when retirements for 1994 were decided. Gordon did not affect any other countries strongly enough to motivate them to request retirement, and the name Gordon will be used again in 2012.

Since Atlantic hurricanes began getting women's names in 1953, 76 names have been retired, an average of 1.3 retired names per year. The list includes one tropical storm, Allison of 2001, that caused billions in damage from its heavy rains. The storm with the most appearances so far is Arlene, which has appeared nine times: 1959, 1963, 1967, 1971, 1981, 1987, 1993, 1999, 2005. Arlene will make its tenth appearance this year. One exception to the retirement rule: before 1979, some storm names were simply dropped. For example, in 1966, Fern was substituted for Frieda, and no reason was given. Only three Eastern Pacific hurricanes have had their names retired--Hurricane Ismael of 1995, Hurricane Pauline of 1997, and Hurricane Kenna of 2002. All of these storms hit Mexico.

Cool Katrina animation
A new visualization created by Advanced Visualization Laboratory at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois shows Hurricane Katrina spinning over the Gulf of Mexico during a 36-hour period in August, 2005. The animation is part of a full-length planetarium film called Dynamic Earth screened at the Fulldome UK festival on March 12 - 13. You can see the video at the newscientist.com or DynamicEarth web sites. The video description: Trajectories follow moist air rising into intense "hot tower" thunderstorms, and trace strong winds around the eye wall; rapidly rising air is yellow, sinking air blue. The sun, moon, and stars show the passing of time. The visualization highlights Katrina's awesome power and fierce beauty.

I'll be back with a new post Tuesday or Wednesday.

Jeff Masters

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Thanks, Dr. Masters. That Katrina animation is amazing, and kinda how I've long envisioned tropical cyclones: almost as living, breathing things.
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Hurricanes Igor and Tomas get their names retired


aret you a littel late on this dr m?
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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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