Bill Read's Blog: Devastating "I" storms

Author: Bill Read, KPRC Local 2 Hurricane Expert
Published On: Aug 31 2012 08:50:03 AM CDT
HOUSTON -

Have you noticed over the past decade how many of the "I" named storms have been headline producers? Well, you are right, they have. The names of particularly bad storms are "retired" for various reasons, including they bring back bad memories of people who went through them and we use historical storms to educate future generations on what can happen.

From 1954, when we started this naming convention, through 2000 only two "I" storms were retired. Since then there have been seven! Memorable for the impacts they brought to the United States were Isabel (2003), Ivan (2004), Ike (2008), and Irene (2010). We’ll see if Isaac is put to rest when the international committee, which I was honored to chair while Director at NHC, meets next spring.

So why so many bad "I" storms in recent years? Partly due to when they occur, but mostly luck of the draw, in my opinion. From the season activity graph shown here, the peak of the hurricane season occurs from mid August until early October. Being the 9th storm of the season virtually guaranties it will form during this period.

Moreover, over 85% of major storms occur during this peak. The peak of the season occurs during this period because the overall heat content of the tropical ocean is highest and the tropical waves coming off Africa tend to be moister and more robust. Since 1995 we have been in a period of greater hurricane activity with all but two seasons having at least 9 storms.

Then we have the luck (or bad luck) factor – where the storms make impact. A huge category 4 storm that never impacts land will not be remembered next year, much less retired. A large category 1 or 2 storm hitting a heavily developed coastline will. And that has been the “I” storm legacy for 7 of the last 10 seasons.

For more on the interesting topic of naming storms, see: www.nhc.noaa.gov/aboutnames_history.shtml.

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