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March 18, 2011 / Dave Gorham

Hurricane Names Igor and Tomas Officially Retired

Joining a list of more than 70 retired Atlantic hurricane names, Igor and Tomas (both from the 2010 season) have officially been retired due to their destructive nature. A storm name is retired primarily due to its deadly and costly toll on a country or a region. Continued use of the name on a different storm would likely be inappropriate for obvious reasons of sensitivity (and also potential confusion?). Names are given to tropical systems with counter-clockwise circulations of 40 miles per hour or higher. Storm names are decided upon by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The WMO’s list of names repeats every six years.

The naming of storms is a practice that dates back hundreds of years. For instance, West Indies storms were often named after the particular saint’s day when the hurricane occurred. At other times, storms received names of politicians and mythical creatures. In World War II, storms were given women’s names; often the names of the wives of generals. In 1951 the United States adopted names based on the phonetic alphabet (Able, Baker, Charlie, etc). Deemed too confusing, the phonetic alphabet naming convention was itself retired in favor of again using women’s names in 1953. In 1978, male and female names began to be used in the eastern Pacific and in 1979 this practice was adopted for Atlantic basin storms. The WMO uses names with an international flavor (such as English, French, Dutch and Spanish) as hurricanes can effect many different countries. The letters Q, U, X, Y and Z are not used due to the scarcity of names associated with those letters.

Hurricane Igor. Image: NOAA

For those of us in the United States, the retiring of Igor and Tomas may seem a bit curious. After all, no storms struck the U.S. mainland last year and to most the season was considered a quiet one. Yet Igor, which formed as a tropical depression on September 8, became a Category 4 hurricane four days later. On September 20 it brushed by Bermuda with minimal damage. Then on September 21, the extratropical storm hit Cape Race with winds of 85 miles per hour as it became the most destructive tropical cyclone to ever strike Newfoundland. Damage estimates were roughly $200 million. Following retirement, the name Igor has been replaced with another “I” name, Ian.

Hurricane Tomas. Image: NOAA

Like Hurricane Igor, Hurricane Tomas is likely an obscure hurricane for those in the U.S. On October 29, the NHC began issuing advisories on Tomas, having first grabbed attention as it moved off the African coast as a tropical wave four days earlier. While Americans were Trick or Treating, Tomas moved by St. Lucia with winds of 92 miles per hour as a Category 1 hurricane. Hurricane Hunter aircraft reported winds of 100 miles per hour late in the day, elevating the storm to Category 2 status, but the storm began encountering wind shear and started to weaken. By the next day it was classified as a tropical storm and weakened further to a tropical depression on November 3, well south of Kingston, Jamaica. However, the fire of this storm was not entirely extinguished and by November 5 the storm had gathered its skirts and reattained hurricane status near Haiti. By this time Tomas was moving mostly northward and upper winds were beginning to weaken the storm while accelerating it out to sea. The last Tomas advisory was issued on November 7. Damage estimates in Barbados neared $9 million (USD). St. Vincent damage estimates were more than $17 million. St. Lucia damage, amidst flooding and mudslides, was estimated to be $500 million and included 16 fatalities. Curaçao reported the worst flooding and damage estimates there reached an estimated $28 million. Damage, including several fatalities, was reported in Haiti, Cuba, Costa Rica, Panama, Hispaniola, the Greater Antilles and the Turks and Caicos. All told, damage estimates exceeded $626 million. Of note, this late season storm is the first “T” storm to be retired. Tomas has now been replaced with Tobias (which will not appear in the list of rotating names until 2016).

Let’s hope there are no storms worthy of retirement following the 2011 tropical storm season.

YourWeatherBlog has written about Igor before. You can read “Three’s a Charm” here and read about the birth of Igor here. Our two posts about Tomas can be read here (“Devastating Set-up for Haiti”) and a mid-storm report here.


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