- More retired Atlantic hurricane names start with “I” than any other letter.
- Ten of these “I” hurricanes have been retired since 2001.
- This is partially due to when typical “I” storms form – during the heart of the season.
As we track what will become Ian in the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico, it’s worth noting hurricanes starting with the letter “I” have been notorious in the Atlantic Basin in the 21st century so far.
Since 2001, 10 other I-hurricanes have had their names retired by the World Meteorological Organization. This is done when a particular tropical cyclone is so deadly and/or damaging that future use might be considered insensitive or confusing.
The list includes some of the most notorious recent hurricanes, including a stretch of four straight years kicking off the new century with a retired I:
- Ida 2021: Storm surge and rainfall flooding in Louisiana, then flash flooding in the Northeast
- Irma 2017: Carved destructive path from the northeast Caribbean Islands to Florida
- Ingrid (2013): Triggered deadly flooding/mudslides (in addition to eastern Pacific Manuel) in Mexico
- Irene (2011): While proving a close call for storm surge in New York City (later smashed by Superstorm Sandy), catastrophic flooding in parts of Vermont, New York and Pennsylvania
- Igor (2010): Most damaging hurricane in recent history for Newfoundland; also struck Bermuda
- Ike (2008): Massive storm surge on upper Texas, Louisiana coast; high wind event well inland to Ohio Valley and beyond
- Ivan (2004): Devastated Grand Cayman; 10- to 15-foot surge along US Gulf Coast; 120 tornadoes in US
- Isabel (2003): One of the most significant hurricanes to hit eastern Virginia since Hazel (1954); storm surge up Chesapeake Bay
- Isidore (2002): Heavy damage to agricultural interests in western Cuba, Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula
- Iris (2001): Devastated southern Belize as a Category 4 hurricane
Since 1953, when the naming of Atlantic tropical cyclones ditched the phonetic alphabet, 94 Atlantic tropical cyclone names have been retired.
The letter with the most number of retirees is – you guessed it – “I,” with 12 total retired names. Inez (1966) and Ione (1955) were the other two retired “I” hurricanes.
While Iota was also retired in 2020 due to its impact in Central America, that name was only used because the 2020 name list was used up, requiring the use of the Greek alphabet after Wilfred. Isaias was the “I” storm in the 2020 season, but was not retired.
Speaking of Isaias, it was one of two recent “I” storms that were very impactful but not retired.
Hurricane Isaias in 2020 tore a swath of damaging wind through the East after its North Carolina landfall.
Tropical Storm Imelda in 2019 dumped over 40 inches of rain near the upper Texas coast, leading to massive flooding just two years after Hurricane Harvey.
In the so-called satellite era since 1966 – when satellite surveillance of the entire Atlantic Basin became available – 36 of the 56 Atlantic hurricane seasons had an “I” storm.
Of those 36 seasons, the average date the “I” storm first became a tropical storm was Sept. 15. The earliest such date that occurred – July 28 – was during the record-smashing 2020 hurricane season. In 1999, a different iteration of Irene first formed on Oct. 13, the latest such date of those 36 seasons.
Over the last 30 years, the Atlantic Basin has generated an average of 14 named storms each hurricane season. Since “I” is the ninth letter of the alphabet, you can pretty much count on an “I” storm each season, as opposed to, say, the 1970s or 1980s.
That largely August through mid-October period encompasses the heart of the hurricane season, when tropical easterly waves coming off western Africa are most vigorous; shearing winds that could rip apart a developing tropical system in the zone between Africa and the Lesser Antilles are lowest; and sea-surface temperatures are at their warmest.
Thus, an “I” storm, in a typical year, has a better chance to be a long-lived and/or intense hurricane, with these generally favorable factors in play.
Of course, there’s no guarantee this recent “I-jinx” will continue, and any hurricane threatening a country, regardless of the name, should be taken very seriously.
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