Nearly eight-dozen hurricane or tropical storm names have been retired from future use in the Atlantic Basin.
A committee of the World Meteorological Organization is responsible for creating each year’s tropical cyclone name list. The National Hurricane Center then assigns these names, in alphabetical order, to any system that becomes a tropical storm (39-plus-mph winds) or hurricane (74-plus-mph winds) in the Atlantic Basin, which includes the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico.
The name lists rotate every six years, so the 2021 list was last used in 2015. However, if any storms from the list are particularly destructive and/or deadly, the WMO can vote to retire their names from being used again in the future, such was the case with hurricanes Harvey (2017), Katrina (2005), Michael (2018) and Sandy (2012).
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Including the record-shattering 2020 hurricane season, 93 names of hurricanes or tropical storms in the Atlantic have been officially retired by the WMO since the practice began in 1954.
Hurricanes Laura, Eta and Iota from 2020 were all retired from future use. At Category 4 intensity on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, Laura was the strongest hurricane to make landfall in southwestern Louisiana since records began in 1851, according to the National Weather Service office in Lake Charles, Louisiana.
Eta and Iota both devastated Central America within a two-week span in November 2020. NASA said Iota was the year’s strongest hurricane, with maximum sustained winds reaching 160 mph (Category 5).
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The 2005 season saw the most storm names retired of any year, with five: Dennis, Katrina, Rita, Stan and Wilma. In 2017, there were four names retired: Harvey, Irma, Maria and Nate.
Since 1954, only 19 years did not have a retired hurricane or tropical storm; the most recent year was 2014.
A tropical cyclone doesn’t need to become a major hurricane (Category 3, 4 or 5) to be retired by the WMO. A notable number of storms have been retired because of deadly flooding in the Caribbean islands, Central America, Mexico or the United States. Nate in 2017 was the most recent example of this, as it was only a Category 1 hurricane, but its heavy rain caused significant impacts in Central America and resulted in 44 deaths.
Two retired names in the Atlantic were never even hurricanes: Tropical Storm Erika in 2015 and Tropical Storm Allison in 2001.
Thirty deaths were directly blamed on Erika’s torrential rain and flooding on the island of Dominica.
Allison caused $9 billion in damage, mostly in the Houston area, after more than 40 inches of rain fell in parts of southeastern Texas. It was responsible for 41 deaths and was one of Houston’s worst floods on record until Harvey in 2017.
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