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Hurricanes: something about the letter "I"


Photo of Hurricane Igor as it charged toward Newfoundland in September 2010
Photo of Hurricane Igor as it charged toward Newfoundland in September 2010

Lyndsay Morrison, staff writer

August 20, 2012 — More often than not, hurricanes with names beginning with the letter "I" have been infamous. We take a look back at some of those memorable storms.

A look at the retired "I" hurricanes and where they tracked
A look at the retired "I" hurricanes and where they tracked

Ivan. Ike. Igor. Irene. 

These just a few examples of  "I" hurricanes that have gone down as some of the worst in history. 

What is it about that letter?

The 9th-named storm of each Atlantic hurricane season is given a name beginning with the letter "I". Since 2001, Seven of the last 11 Atlantic "I" storms have been retired by a committee of the World Meteorological Organization.

So, why have so many of these hurricanes become infamous? Is there a reasonable explanation?

"Storms beginning with "I" are tied with "C" storms for the letter-group with the most retired names, partly due to the time of year," says Rob Davis, a meteorologist at The Weather Network. "Storms beginning with "I" typically occur during the peak of the hurricane season."

Still, Davis says the pattern of powerful "I" storms is also simply coincidence.

"There’s no reason why “H” or “J” have been weaker than the "I" storms, other than pure chance." 

The last two hurricanes to make  landfall in the U.S. were “I” storms: Ike in 2008 and Irene in 2011. Ike lashed Haiti, Cuba and the U.S. Gulf states, causing $41 billion in damage. Irene swept Hispaniola, Bahamas and the U.S. east coast, even impacting New York City at one point. 

Canada took the biggest hit from Hurricane Igor. That storm hit Newfoundland in September 2010, causing $210 million in damages.

Some of the most damaging "I" storms have been in the U.S. and Caribbean
Some of the most damaging "I" storms have been in the U.S. and Caribbean

At one point, hurricanes Ivan (2004) and Isabel (2003) were strong category 5 storms. Both impacted the United States. Hurricane Iris hit Belize in 2001, and Isidore hit Mexico and Louisiana in 2002. 

Because of their extraordinary impact on the U.S., Canada or the Caribbean, all of those "I" names have now been retired. The official list of storm names is actually six sets names that rotate in a six-year cycle. Therefore, a storm name that is used one year will likely be used again six years later if it is not retired. 

"When such great loss of life or property occurs, a great amount of association is placed in people’s minds with that particular hurricane’s name," says Davis. "Thus, out of respect and to limit future confusion, the name is discontinued from the official list of storm names."  

There will never be another hurricane Ivan, Igor or Irene in the Atlantic, but there may soon be an Isaac. On Tuesday, Tropical Storm Isaac formed east of the Lesser Antilles. It is forecast to become a hurricane, and could affect the Caribbean and, possibly, the U.S.

It's the 4th time the name “Isaac” has been used for an Atlantic storm. In 2006, Tropical Storm Isaac hit Newfoundland, bringing rain and gusty winds. 

Earlier this month, NOAA boosted its forecast for the rest of the 2012 Atlantic Hurricane season. For more details on what's happening currently, visit The Weather Network's Tropical Storm Centre.

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