Ike, Igor, Irene, Ingrid … What do these four names have in common? They all start with the letter “I”, and they can never again be used for a hurricane.

Weather guages

The World Meteorological Organization began naming tropical storms in 1950. A storm is given a name when its wind speeds reach 39 miles per hour, and it becomes a hurricane when winds hit 74 miles per hour.

Kimberlain: “We find that choosing relatively short and distinctive names is the best way to go about identifying tropical cyclones.”

Hurricane forecaster Todd Kimberlain says there are six lists of twenty-one names. One list is used per year, and names are given in alphabetical order. But if a storm is particularly deadly, its name is never used again.

That could create a problem for the letter “I”, which is normally needed in the month of September.

Kimberlain: “The storms then can be very strong, so we’ve gone through a lot of I names.”

Experts predict that as the climate warms, we might see fewer hurricanes, but those we do see could be more deadly, possibly leading to more names being retired.

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Kimberlain: “We may get to the point where we don’t have any other I names, and I’m not sure where we’re going to get them from.”

Reporting credit: Lauren Smith/ChavoBart Digital Media.
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A regular contributor to Yale Climate Connections since 2012, David Appell, Ph.D., is a freelance writer living in Salem, Oregon, specializing in the physical sciences, technology, and the environment. His...