Hurricanes Harvey and Irma Could Be First Back-to-Back Retired Hurricane Names Since 2005

Brian Donegan
Published: September 13, 2017

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma could be the first back-to-back hurricanes to have their names retired in 12 years – something that has happened only seven other times since 1954.

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

(MORE: Hurricane Central)

The last time two consecutive Atlantic named storms were retired was in 2005 with hurricanes Rita and Stan.

This also occurred in 2004 with Ivan and Jeanne, 2003 with Isabel and Juan, 1995 with Luis and Marilyn, 1964 with Cleo and Dora and twice in 1955 with Connie and Diane, then Ione and Janet.

(MORE: Retired Hurricane Names: The Most Notorious Atlantic Storms Since 1954)

The two lines show the tracks of hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

It seems likely that the names Harvey and Irma will be retired based on the devastating and deadly impacts they caused, but that can be determined only by the WMO next year.

If Irma does get retired, it will have been used only once on the rotating list of storm names. This was the first year the name Irma had been used for an Atlantic tropical storm or hurricane. It replaced the name Irene after it was retired for the damage it caused in the Bahamas and the U.S. during the 2011 hurricane season.

Here's the arugment for the retirement of Harvey and Irma.

Hurricane Harvey

Hurricane Harvey was a catastrophic flood disaster in southeast Texas where it stalled and dumped 40 to 52 inches of rain in about a week's time. The top rainfall total was a preliminary 51.88 inches near Highlands, Texas, at the Cedar Bayou rain gauge.

Pending final confirmation, this rainfall total would be the heaviest from any tropical cyclone in the continental U.S. in records dating to 1950, topping the 48-inch storm total in Medina, Texas, from Tropical Storm Amelia in 1978, according to research by NOAA/Weather Prediction Center meteorologist David Roth.

Harvey's flooding caused one of the worst weather disasters in U.S. history, with a price tag that will amount to billions of dollars. The Harris County Flood Control District in Houston estimated 70 percent of Harris County was flooded by at least 1.5 feet of water, with an estimated 136,000 flooded structures in the county alone as of Aug. 31.

Thousands of water rescues occurred in the Houston metro area as many homes and businesses were swamped by floodwaters.

Serious flooding also occurred southwest of Houston along the Brazos, Colorado and Guadalupe rivers.

In total, 19 National Weather Service river gauges had observed record flooding as of Aug. 31.

(RECAP: Hurricane Harvey)

Hurricane Irma

Hurricane Irma brought devastating damage from the Caribbean into Florida and the southeastern United States.

According to the National Hurricane Center, Irma made seven landfalls throughout its trek across the Atlantic Basin. These occurred in Barbuda, St. Martin, the British Virgin Islands, Little Inagua (Bahamas), Camaguey (Cuba), Cudjoe Key (Florida Keys) and Marco Island (Florida Mainland).

What's more, Irma was a major hurricane (Category 3 or stronger) for all seven landfalls.

Barbuda lost an estimated 95 percent of its buildings after Hurricane Irma blasted the island as a Category 5 hurricane, and was later described as "barely habitable" by Prime Minister Gaston Browne.

Catastrophic damage was also widespread in the U.S. and British Virgin Islands.

(MORE: The Most Unforgettable Moments of Hurricane Irma)

Irma then roared ashore in the Florida Keys and southwest Florida, producing wind gusts as high as 142 mph in Naples.

Its impacts spread northward across the state and into other parts of the Southeast. Record flooding was observed along the St. Johns River in Jacksonville, Florida, and major flooding also occurred in Charleston, South Carolina, where the Charleston Harbor tide gauge topped the level it reached during Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

(RECAP: Hurricane Irma)

Brian Donegan is a digital meteorologist at Follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.

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