Time to retire some names
April 3, 2006
The World Meteorological Organization's Regional Association IV Hurricane Committee's annual meeting is currently in progress and runs until tomorrow. The meeting is best known for being the place where the annual lists of hurricane names are established. Part of establishing those lists is deciding which names from the previous season are going to be retired.
There is no specific criteria for retiring a name, only the "widespread practice that when a tropical cyclone attains notoriety, when for example, it inflicts a heavy death toll or causes devastation of property, its name is retired". Any of the 26 members of the committe may request that a name be removed from the rotation.
The retired names list is currently 62 names long, with the first names being from the 1954 season. Fatalities from the storms on the list from several thousand to single digits. Damage from these storms is harder to compare since records are only available for the monetary damage in the U.S. , but in all cases it can be assumed that the damage was of a nature that would not be forgotten in the affected area for years.
Because of the lack of specificity in the practice of retiring names, there are cases where it seemed that a name could have/should have been retired but was not. Hurricane Juan of 1985 caused (inflation-adjusted) three billion dollars of damage, but the name wasn't retired until 2003 (for the damage that year's edition caused in Canada). Tropical Storm Alberto in 1994 took 30 lives, but it's name is still in use.
Note that the intensity of a storm does not matter, solely its affects to the people on land. That's why (Tropical Storm) Allison is on the list, while a category five hurricane could conceivably not make it.
Here, in chronological order, are the names of 2005 that will probably be considered for retirment:
- Dennis – If it affected only the U.S. this could have been the next Juan, but the 39 dead in Cuba, Haiti, and Jamaica will get Dennis out of the rotation.
- Emily – Mexico will almost certainly request retirement due to the damage caused by the second landfall, which wiped villages off the map.
- Katrina – Technically, retirement is only guaranteed for 10 years, after that, the name can be put back in rotation, meaning that in the future there could be two lists, one of names temporarily out of use and a second of names that are "really retired". Katrina would belong to the latter.
- Rita – The widespread damage on the Gulf coast, loosely estimated at 10 billion dollars will put it on the retired list.
- Stan – Even if you accept the NHC's reasoning which set the storm's death toll at 80 (a "broader-scale low-level cyclonic circulation" was blamed for the flooding that took the lives of 1000-2000 people), you have to think that it will be retired.
- Wilma – Severe damage to the Yucatan Peninsula and south Florida ensure that there won't be another Flintstone character storm anytime soon.
- Alpha – The tropical storm killed 26 people in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, which is exactly as many lives that Hurricane Andrew took. Alpha, however, obviously lacks the 'notoriety', so it could be the next Alberto. May raise some questions about the current scheme of using the Greek alphabet for names after the year's list is exhausted.
The record for most names retired from a season is four, which will be yet another record broken by the 2005 season.