When it comes to significant storms during the Atlantic hurricane season, the “I’s” have it.
Tropical Storm Idalia formed on Sunday and became a hurricane early Tuesday. The storm, projected to become a major hurricane, is forecast to enter the Gulf of Mexico and could impact Florida’s west coast or Panhandle areas as soon as Wednesday.
For longtime storm watchers, the I-word in Atlantic basin hurricanes conjures up devastating storms. Ian last year. Ida in 2021. Irma in 2017.
According to the World Meteorological Organization, storms that cause severe loss of life or property are retired. Fourteen storms that start with the letter “I” have had their names retired since 1954, according to the National Hurricane Center. That was the year hurricanes Carol, Edna and Hazel raked the eastern coast of the U.S., The Washington Post reported.
The first I-storm to have its name retired was Hurricane Ione in 1955, according to the National Hurricane Center. The latest was Hurricane Ian, which smashed into Southwest Florida last year.
Here are the others: Inez (1966), Iris (2001), Isidore (2002), Isabel (2003), Ivan (2004), Ike (2008), Igor (2010), Irene (2011), Ingrid (2013), Irma (2017), Iota (2020, from the Greek alphabet when 30 storms were named) and Ida (2021).
There may have been other storms worthy of retirement, but hurricanes were not given names until 1950.
The reason for so many destructive I-named storms? Being the ninth-name storm in a given year, the I-storms tend to form at the peak of the Atlantic hurricane season, which is between mid-August and late September.
According to the Post, the ninth-named storm has formed on Sept. 23 on average over the past 50 years. But during active seasons the date moves up by about two weeks, coinciding with the hurricane season’s peak, which is around Sept. 10.
I-named storms that form in August, like Idalia, have come during the most active seasons. Over the past 50 hurricane seasons, five years — 1995, 2005, 2011, 2012 and 2020 — have had a ninth-named storm by August, the newspaper reported.
This year’s storm season was relatively quiet until recently. Emily formed in the Atlantic on Aug. 20, WFLA-TV reported. The storm was quickly followed by Franklin, Gert, Harold, and now, Idalia.
Because of this year’s warm temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico – plus the lack of high-altitude winds that cause wind shear – conditions are ripe for strong storms when “I” is reached on the alphabetical list of storms, the Post reported.
This year’s record heat and humidity in the U.S. has resulted in the highest temperature levels ever recorded in the Gulf of Mexico, according to the newspaper.
In July, the average water surface temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico were nearly 2 degrees Fahrenheit above normal, the Tampa Bay Times reported. According to Matthew Rosencrans, the lead hurricane season outlook forecaster at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, that is the highest mark on record, the newspaper reported.
WFLA reported that the average temperature in the Gulf in August is 88 degrees Fahrenheit, which is 2.6 degrees above normal. Offshore from Tampa Bay and near the Louisiana coast, the temperatures are more than 5 degrees above normal, according to the Times. Inside Tampa Bay, waters topped 100 degrees on July 26.
“You always think of the Gulf of Mexico as being warm this time of year during the peak of hurricane season,” Brian McNoldy, a senior research associate at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, told the newspaper.
“But it’s never been this warm.”
“The Gulf of Mexico this week is the hottest it’s been at any point in any year on record by a wide margin,” Michael Lowry, a hurricane expert for WPLG-TV in Miami, tweeted on Aug. 15.
Record temperatures have not been limited to the Gulf. Last month, a buoy in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of South Florida recorded a temperature of 101 degrees Fahrenheit, The New York Times reported.
That is why Florida and other interests along the Gulf coast are bracing for the impact that Idalia could have.
According to the National Weather Service, Ione, the first I-storm to have its name retired, caused more than $600 million in damages to eastern North Carolina. The storm’s strong easterly winds caused some of the worst “tidal inundations” in the area’s history.
According to the NOAA, Ian was responsible for at least 156 fatalities last year. Sixty-six were considered deaths directly caused by the Category 4 storm, and all of them occurred in Florida.
The storm caused an estimated $112.9 billion in total damage in the U.S. making it the third costliest hurricane to hit the mainland behind Katrina in 2005 and Harvey in 2017, according to the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information. Of that amount, losses in Florida totaled $109.5 billion.
Hurricane Irma was responsible for 129 deaths in the U.S. during the 2017 hurricane season, WFLA reported. NOAA stated that the storm reached Category 5 status before hitting the Florida Keys as a Category 4 and as a Category 3 system in Southwest Florida.
The storm was responsible for 10 direct deaths in the U.S. and caused $50 billion in damages, according to the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information.
Because of Irma’s destruction, the name of the storm was retired by the World Meteorological Organization. There is a list of Atlantic hurricanes that rotate every six years, according to the National Hurricane Center. Names are retired when a storm causes major destruction and/or loss of life.
Irma’s name, therefore was retired.
It was replaced in the rotation by Idalia.