Floridians pray that when Idalia hits the Gulf Coast it won’t join the long list of destructive Atlantic Ocean storms whose names started with “I.”
Since 1955, 13 Atlantic storm names beginning with “I” have been retired, according to the National Weather Service. That happens when a storm’s death toll or destruction is so severe that using its name again would be insensitive, according to the World Meteorological Organization, which oversees storm naming.
Some letter has to be No. 1, and hurricane season often reaches its peak around the time that the pre-determined alphabetical storm-name list gets to the “I.”
After “I” storms, 10 names that begin with “F” have been retired, as have nine storms beginning with “C,” University of Miami hurricane expert Brian McNoldy said.
In addition to the 13 retired “I” names from Atlantic Ocean hurricanes, a handful of Pacific Ocean storms beginning with “I” have been retired since 1982.
The U.S. began using female names for storms in 1953 partly to avoid confusion and make warnings more efficient by using easy-to-remember names, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Before then, radio stations used to broadcast warnings with numbers and names that confused people. By the late 1970s, male names were also being used for storms in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, according to NOAA.
Notorious I-storms in recent memory have included:
The 2003 storm reached Category 5 strength over the Atlantic. Though it weakened before making landfall on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, its winds caused extensive damage. More than 8 feet (2.4 meters) of seawater flooded rivers across the Chesapeake Bay region, according to accounts from the National Weather Service. The hurricane was blamed for 17 deaths.
Irma was the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the open Atlantic Ocean when it took aim at several Caribbean islands in 2017, according to the National Weather Service. The Category 5 storm had sustained winds of up to 185 mph (295 kph). As it approached Antigua, officials announced the closing of the airport with an ominous message: “May God protect us all.” Irma destroyed an estimated 90 percent of the structures on Barbuda, one of the hardest-hit islands. But several other islands, including Anguilla; the U.S. and British Virgin Islands; the French territory of St. Martin and the neighboring Dutch territory of St. Maarten all reported deaths and widespread damage.