Retired Hurricane Names: The Most Notorious Atlantic Storms Since 1954

Jon Erdman
Published: June 12, 2018

Some Atlantic Basin hurricanes have had their names retired. Just as no New York Yankee will ever again wear No. 3 (Babe Ruth), nor will a Green Bay Packer ever claim No. 15 (Bart Starr), no future Atlantic hurricane will ever be named Harvey, Irma, Katrina, Maria or Sandy.

(MORE: Why Hurricanes are Named)

Unlike an athlete's number, however, there is no celebration when an Atlantic name is retired from future use.

Contrary to popular opinion, a committee of the World Meteorological Organization – not the U.S. National Hurricane Center – is responsible for the tropical cyclone name lists.

Atlantic hurricane and tropical storm name lists repeat every six years, unless one is so destructive and/or deadly that the committee votes to retire that name from future lists. This avoids the use of, say, Katrina, Sandy or Maria to describe a future weak, open-ocean tropical storm.

Since the naming of Atlantic tropical cyclones ditched the phonetic alphabet in 1953, 86 Atlantic tropical cyclone names have been retired, including 2017's Harvey, Irma, Maria and Nate.

(MORE: Harvey, Irma, Maria and Nate Retired Following Devastating 2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season)

The tracks of all tropical cyclones that affected the U.S. in 2017 are plotted, including Harvey, Irma, Maria and Nate.

Only 20 seasons have not had a name retired, most recently in 2014. Another 24 seasons, through 2017, have had multiple names removed from future use, led by the record-smashing 2005 hurricane season's five retirees.

Names beginning with the letter "I" lead the retirees with 11, followed by nine "C" storms, then eight "F" storms. Nine of those "I" storms have earned retirement just since 2001, including a four-year streak from 2001 through 2004 (Iris, Isidore, Isabel and Ivan, respectively). Wilma in 2005 is the deepest-in-the-alphabet retiree.

(MORE: Five-Day Hurricane Track Forecasts are More Accurate Today Than Two-Day Forecasts 25 Years Ago)

Some names you'll instantly recognize. Others, not so much.

For example, KatrinaRita and Wilma are the big three you undoubtedly remember from 2005. You may have forgotten about Dennis and Stan, however. Did you know Stan may have been more deadly than Katrina?

The retired Atlantic storms weren't all necessarily intense Category 3, 4 or 5 hurricanes. In fact, a good number of them were retired due to their deadly flooding in the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America or the United States.

(MORE: 75 Percent of U.S. Hurricane Deaths From Water, Not Wind)

Some examples of this include 2017's Nate2013's Ingrid in Mexico, 1996's Hortense in Puerto Rico and 1972's Agnes in the eastern U.S.

Only two Atlantic retirees never attained hurricane status: 2015's Tropical Storm Erika and 2001's Tropical Storm Allison. Damage from Erika's epic flooding may have set Dominica's progress back 20 years, according to the country's prime minister in late-summer 2015.

Allison was a $9-billion storm and one of the worst floods of record in Houston until 2017's Harvey.

(MORE: Top-10 Most Extreme Atlantic Hurricane Seasons in the Satellite Era)


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