Here's a safe bet: Floridians never will experience another Hurricane Charley. Or, for that matter, a Frances, Ivan or Jeanne. For all the misery they caused, the names of the...
MIAMI Here’s a safe bet: Floridians never will experience another Hurricane Charley. Or, for that matter, a Frances, Ivan or Jeanne.
For all the misery they caused, the names of the storms that preyed on the Sunshine State this year are destined for retirement banished from the alphabetical list used each year for tropical cyclones.
The National Hurricane Center is recommending the retirement, but the ban won’t become official until the regional hurricane committee of the World Meteorological Organization approves it next spring at a meeting in Costa Rica.
“It’s a no-brainer,” said hurricane-center director Max Mayfield, who leads the committee representing 24 nations. “These storms caused a lot of deaths and a lot of damage.”
Under the rules, the country most affected by a hurricane can request that the offending storm’s name no longer be used. With Charley, Ivan, Jeanne and Frances, there’s no shortage of contenders.
In Florida, the foursome left behind more than $40 billion in damage and claimed 117 lives. Other countries suffered even more. For instance, Jeanne caused severe flooding in Haiti, unleashing mudslides and drowning thousands in the impoverished Caribbean nation.
When Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne head to the hurricane dustbin, they will be in good company.
The names of 58 other hurricanes have been retired. They include two other sets of quadruplets four storm names that were retired in a single year. The last was in 1995, and the first in 1955.
The meteorological organization began retiring names of devastating storms in 1954 partly out of sensitivity to the stricken locale. Meteorologists knew the name of a storm that took lives and livelihoods would evoke painful memories. They also wanted to avoid confusion in science journals, legal actions, insurance claims and the like.
The lists of names used for tropical storms and hurricanes are recycled every six years, so there would be a good chance of having two memorable storms with the same name in a short period.
In 1992, for example, there were Atlantic storms named Charley and Frances in the same year that Andrew the single costliest storm on record came ashore in south Miami-Dade County. Andrew was retired.
Mayfield spends more time on hurricane names than he would like. He’s counting on members of the regional hurricane committee to quickly propose and approve new C, F, I and J names at their April conference in Costa Rica so they can concentrate on more important business such as discussing the region’s hurricane-warning system.
“You could spend a whole day arguing about names,” he said.
Or, in the case, of Roxcy Bolton, years. That’s how long it took Bolton, one of Florida’s pioneering feminists, to persuade forecasters to quit using only female names for hurricanes.
Her argument: Associating tragedy with a female name was degrading to women.
Finally, in 1979, meteorologists began using both male and female names. Twenty-five years later, Bolton, now 78, still isn’t satisfied with the compromise, but concedes, “treating men and women equally was better than the nothing.”
Hurricanes once were simply known by number 1, 2, 3 or, if they were particularly ferocious, by year. Numbers, however, proved confusing, especially if two storms were kicking around at the same time.
It was too easy for mariners to mistake warnings about one storm for the other. So, in 1953, forecasters borrowed the practice of World War II sailors, who named storms after their girlfriends, wives or mothers-in-law or perhaps their ex-girlfriends, wives and mothers-in-law.
It worked. Personifying storms made it easier for the public to keep track. So, today, there are six lists of names, contributed by World Meteorological Organization member countries and recycled every six years. That means this year’s list will be reused in 2010 presumably sans Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne.
The letters Q, U, X, Y and Z aren’t used, so each list has 21 monikers and, thanks to Bolton, religiously alternates between male and female names.