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When it comes to naming hurricanes, does 'I' stand for 'infamous'?

Hurricane names are selected from a pre-determined list. But many of the worst tropical storms have started with the same letter.

TAMPA, Fla. — Hurricane Ian is projected to be a powerful storm that's on a path to hit Tampa Bay and southwest Florida regions. 

But even before the hurricane's power has been fully unleashed, Ian is already signifying an "infamous" moniker carried by destructive tropical storms that have previously tore through the Atlantic coast.  

Ian, Irma, Irene, Ida, and Ingrid are names with a commonality that's easy to recognize on the surface. But aside from sharing the same vowel, they've all been used to identify particularly ruinous hurricanes in recent years.  

Naming hurricanes is supposed to be a bit of a random process, and yet it's difficult to ignore how some of the worst storms have shared this common trait.  

How did we start naming hurricanes?

Australian weatherman Clement Wragge is credited with coming up with the trend of naming tropical cyclones. In the late 19th century, Wragge began using Greek letters and the names of local politicians he disliked to identify hurricanes, according to History.com.

Other meteorologists soon realized there were advantages to using short, memorable names when communicating life-saving information about quick-moving storms. 

Starting in the 1950s, the U.S. began using female names to identify and track tropical storms. Male names were not added to the list until the late 1970s. 

Now, the World Meteorological Organization rotates through six lists of 21 pre-determined names to decide how hurricanes shall be identified. 

At the start of each storm season, WMO will start at the top of the list and proceed down alphabetically until the season ends. 

So the ninth name of every hurricane season shall have a name starting with the letter "I."

But storm enthusiasts have noticed an interesting pattern that's surfaced since WMO began implementing its naming system — lots of the most terrible storms have borne "I"-names.

When a hurricane is especially destructive or results in several fatalities, the WMO will decide to retire the name from its lists. 

"I"-names appear most often on the WMO's list of retired hurricane names. Since 1954, the agency has retired at least 13 "I"-names, making it the most reoccurring letter on the retirement list. 

"Ida" was the only name to be retired in 2021 after that hurricane caused several deaths and billions in expensive damages.

The Washington Post has theorized that timing may be to blame for "I" becoming associated with so many terrible hurricanes. Because the ninth hurricane tends to occur during the peak of storm season, the newspaper says they're likely to be more destructive. 

The WMO Atlantic Hurricane names for 2022

  • Alex
  • Bonnie
  • Colin
  • Danielle
  • Earl
  • Fiona
  • Gaston
  • Hermine
  • Ian
  • Julia
  • Karl
  • Lisa
  • Martin
  • Nicole
  • Owen
  • Paula
  • Richard
  • Shary
  • Tobias
  • Virginie
  • Walter

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