Why are hurricane names retired and how is it determined?

ATLANTIC OCEAN - SEPTEMBER 3: NOAA GOES-East satellite handout (Photo by NOAA via Getty Images)

While Hurricane Fiona and Tropical Storm Gaston are churning in the Atlantic, more could be brewing elsewhere. The National Hurricane Center has designated a tropical wave east of the Windward Islands as Invest 98-L.
That latest unnamed system could be Hermine within the next week.

Hurricane Hermine may sound familiar to you. The storm made landfall in Florida back in 2016 – the first hurricane to make landfall in our state in eleven years, dating back to Wilma in 2005. Gaston may also sound familiar, especially to those who lived in the Mid-Atlantic. In 2004, it brought devastating flooding to South Carolina, Virginia, and North Carolina causing $190 million in damage and nine deaths.


Every six years the National Hurricane Center cycles through six alphabetical lists of storm names unless the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) decides to retire a name. A retired name is then replaced with a new one of the same letter.


So how does the WMO decide what storm names to retire? According to their website, a storm name is retired if it is considered so deadly or costly that the future use of its name on a different storm would be inappropriate for obvious reasons of sensitivity.

A list of recently retired storm names in the Atlantic includes:

  • Laura (2020)
  • Dorian (2019)
  • Michael (2018)
  • Irma (2017)
  • Harvey (2017)

If you go further back, you’ll find names like Sandy (2012), Irene (2011), and a long list of storms from 2004 and 2005.

Many of these storms were historically strong and devastating with damage totals in the billions of dollars and a high number of casualties in the U.S. and counties in the Atlantic Basin. After every hurricane season, a committee with the WMO reviews every storm and decides whether to retire any names. In fact, countries affected by a storm can make proposals to the committee for consideration. If the committee decides not to retire a name, it remains on the list and reappears every six years.