This Letter of the Alphabet Is Associated With the Most Retired Hurricane Names

June 05, 2018 by Daphne Thompson
Topics:   Tropical | Hurricane |

With the start of the 2018 Atlantic Hurricane Season officially here, you may be thinking back to last year's destructive storms. Some were so bad that the names were retired. Tropical storms and hurricanes can have their names permanently retired from future lists when they are incredibly deadly or damaging. In 2017, Harvey, Irma, Maria, and Nate all were removed and will never be used again to name a tropical system. If we go back to the 1950s, which letter of the alphabet has the most retired names?

Let's start with a little bit of history on why tropical systems are named in the first place. In the 1950s, hurricanes began to be publicly named after confusion occurred when three were active at one time. Initially, the military's phonetic alphabet was used, but in 1953 this changed to a list of female names. It was 1979 before male names also were added to the list. The lists are created by the World Meteorological Organization's Hurricane Committee and repeat every six years. The committee meets before every hurricane season and decides which names will be retired and what names will replace them. 

Peak of the Atlantic Hurricane Season

Hurricane season in the Atlantic begins on June 1 and ends on November 30; however, they can form before and after these dates. The above graph shows the peak of our season happens on September 10, and also indicates the time-frame when you probably don't want to plan a cruise to any tropical islands. While this image shows us when hurricanes and tropical storms occur the most, it says nothing about their destructive ability.

Looking back through history, we can count how many hurricane names were retired since 1950 and which letter of the alphabet with which they were associated. What letter would you guess is the winner?

LETTER # RETIRED
A 7
C 7
F 7
I 11

Interestingly enough, the letter I won with 11 retired names. However, A, C, and F all tied for second place. And the letters D, E, G, H, J, and M all came in third with five names removed from the lists. Is there a reason the 9th letter of the alphabet was the winner?  Did those storms occur at the peak of the season? Let's take a look.

Ione 1955 Sept. 10-21
Inez 1966 Sept. 21- Oct. 11
Iris 2001 Oct. 4-9
Isidore 2002 Sept 14-27
Isabel 2003 Sept. 6-20
Ivan 2004 Sept. 2-24
Ike 2008 Sept 1-14
Igor 2010 Sept 8-21
Irene 2011 Aug. 21-28
Ingrid 2013 Sept. 12-17
Irma 2017 Aug. 30- Sept. 12

Well, I see a lot of September dates in that table. Now, let's graph it out and see how many occurred near the September 10th peak.

Graph of Retired Hurricane Names Starting with IMore than half of the retired names starting with the letter I overlap or begin on the climatological peak. By mid-September, the ocean temperatures have warmed up, and there is a lot of available energy for tropical systems. All of these were major hurricanes, except for Ingrid (which made the list due to $1.5 billion in property damage from flooding).

I'm not saying you should only be concerned with tropical cyclones starting with the letter I, after all, the majority of letters used in the yearly hurricane lists have had at least one name retired. All tropical storms and hurricanes can cause death and destruction. If you live in a hurricane-prone area, it is always best to be prepared ahead of time. Need assistance? Check out our webinar on the 2018 Hurricane Season and know what to expect over the next several months.

Watch the 2018 Hurricane Season Forecast

Daphne Thompson

Daphne is the Content Marketing Manager. Her prior experience includes working at the National Weather Center, Norman Emergency Management, and National Weather Service. With a degree in Meteorology from OU and previous outreach experience, she is able to bridge the gap between science and the general public.