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The Science of Hurricane Juan - Should "Hurricane Juan" Be Retired?

Prepared by Peter Bowyer, April 29, 2004

Naming of Hurricanes in the Atlantic

The custom of naming hurricanes and tropical storms in the Atlantic began in 1950. Experience showed that the use of names, both in written and spoken communication, was less subject to error than the more cumbersome latitude-longitude identification methods that had been in use. These conventions evolved until 1979, following which they have remained unchanged to today.

  • 1950: Storms named according to the phonetic alphabet: Able, Baker, Charlie, etc.
  • 1953: Phonetic alphabet names abandoned; a single list of female names adopted: Alice, Barbara, Carol, Dolly, Edna, Florence, Gail, Hazel, etc.
  • 1955: Rotating lists of female names introduced.
  • 1979: Male names introduced; six different lists of names to be used in rotation, alternating gender between subsequent names as well as the starting name in subsequent years. The names must reflect the languages prevalent in the Caribbean, and Central and North America, namely: English, Spanish and French.

The Retirement of Hurricane Names

Hurricanes that have a severe impact on lives or the economy are remembered for many years. Some go into weather history. In many cases, it is felt that the future use of the name of such a devastating storm is inappropriate for reasons of compassion and sensitivity. Whenever a hurricane has had this level of impact, any country affected by the storm can make a request to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) that the name of the hurricane be "retired."

Retiring a name actually means that it cannot be reused for at least 10 years, to facilitate historic references, legal actions, insurance claim activities, etc., and to avoid public confusion with another storm of the same name. The WMO Hurricane Committee in the region of responsibility (in the case of the North Atlantic, it is Region Area IV) considers the request by the affected country, and if agreeable, strikes the storm name from the list and selects another name of like-gender and like-ethnicity.

To date, more than 50 storm names have been retired.

Asking for Juan to Be Retired

In consideration of the lost and damaged lives, the impact to economy, and the widespread destruction of trees throughout two provinces, Environment Canada, on behalf of Nova Scotians and Prince Edward Islanders, requested that the name Juan be retired.

This request was granted at the annual meeting of the WMO RAIV Hurricane Committee on April 29, 2004. This was the first time that Canada had requested the retirement of a storm name. Read the News Release.

A Matter of Perspective

As Environment Canada's Senior Climatologist David Phillips often reminds us that people are fascinated by the weather. It is little wonder that we are comfortable personifying storms that wreck havoc or that we find amusement in the naming of hurricanes. And where a storm doesn't come with a name, we seem compelled to find a moniker to facilitate our need to talk about it. Infamous storms such as, "The Independence Hurricane," "The Saxby Gale," "The Columbus Day Storm," "The Groundhog Day Storm," "The Escuminac Disaster," and, "The Ice Storm," each provide rallying points for conversation and reflection. As unique as the names, were the calamities brought by each of those tempests.

Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of Hurricane Hazel, another infamous storm with a name. For those of us who weren't in Toronto on that infamous October night in 1954, the inevitable books, TV specials, and radio shows in the coming year will fascinate and entertain us with stories and images. For those who were there, the painful reminders will only bring sobriety. After 1954, the name of Hazel was never used again.

Some think it is melodramatic to ask for the name of Juan to be retired. My guess is that the vast majority of the half million people who were significantly affected by this storm inherently understand that retiring the name won't mean that it will be forgotten. Hazel hasn't been forgotten. Likewise, Juan won't be forgotten; it will be remembered, with perspective.

(Note: The name of "Hazel" was retired after causing considerable loss of life and destruction through the Antilles and the Carolinas in 1954. Because Hazel was not officially a hurricane when it struck Ontario, ultimately killing 83 people, Canada was not one of the countries who requested the retirement but Canadians were very much in agreement).

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Mr. Bill Appleby for his input and review of this article. Mr. Appleby is the Regional Director for the Atlantic Region of the Meteorological Service of Canada and is a long-standing Canadian member of the WMO Region Area IV Hurricane Committee.

A more complete history of the practice of naming tropical cyclones, along with the current lists of names, can be found here at a web site from the United States National Hurricane Center: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/aboutnames.shtml. Some of the material used here was taken from that site.

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