WMO’s hurricane committee retires Fiona and Ian from list of names

29 March 2023

Tropical storms and hurricanes are major hazards in North and Central America and the Caribbean. Improved forecasts and emergency preparedness have reduced loss of life but more can be done. WMO’s Hurricane Committee seeks to ensure that everyone has access to early warnings about life-threatening winds, rain and flooding – a core component of the Early Warnings for All Initiative. It also oversees the list of hurricane names, which is used to communicate about the danger.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Hurricane Committee has retired Fiona and Ian from the rotating lists of Atlantic tropical cyclone names because of the death and destruction they caused in Central America, the Caribbean, the United States, and Canada..

Farrah will be used to replace Fiona in the lists of names, whilst Idris will replace Ian.

WMO uses lists of names to help communicate storm warnings and to alert people about potentially life-threatening risks.  In this region, the names are repeated every six years, unless a storm is so deadly that its name is retired. In total, 96 names have now been retired from the Atlantic basin list since 1953, when storms began to be named under the current system.

The naming convention – whilst attracting the most public attention – is only a small part of the life-saving work of the Hurricane Committee, which focuses on operational priorities including the provision of forecasts and warnings for wind, storm surge and flooding hazards, as well as impact assessments.

Fiona was a large and powerful hurricane, which hit communities in the Lesser Antilles, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and the Turks and Caicos. It then moved northward over the western Atlantic and struck Canada as a strong post-tropical cyclone in September 2022, bringing significant damage and loss of life along its path.  The storm brought devastating freshwater flooding to Puerto Rico where it made landfall as a category 1 hurricane. The storm produced over $3 billion (U.S. dollars) in damage across the Caribbean and Canada and was responsible for 29 direct and indirect fatalities. Fiona is the costliest extreme weather event on record in Atlantic Canada.

Ian was large and powerful category 4 hurricane that struck western Cuba as a major hurricane and made landfall in southwestern Florida as a  category 4 hurricane.  Ian caused a devastating storm surge in southwestern Florida and is responsible for over 150 direct and indirect deaths and over US$112 billion in damage in the United States, making it the costliest hurricane in Florida’s history and the third costliest in the United States.

The Hurricane Committee consists of experts from National Meteorological and Hydrological Services and serves North America, Central America and the Caribbean (WMO Regional Association IV). Its annual session, the first face-to-face meeting since 2019, takes place in San José, Costa Rica, from 27 to 31 March. It is hosted by the national meteorological and hydrological service of Costa Rica, which celebrates its 135th anniversary.

Early Warnings for All

"Tropical cyclones are major killers and a single storm can reverse years of socio-economic development. The death toll has fallen dramatically thanks to improvements in forecasting, warning and disaster risk reduction. But we can do even better,” said WMO Secretary-General Prof. Petteri Taalas.

“The UN Early Warnings for All initiative seeks to ensure that everyone has access to warnings of life-threatening winds, storm surge and rainfall in the next five years, especially in Small Island Developing States which are on the frontlines of climate change,” he said.

At global level, tropical cyclones caused an average 43 deaths and US$ 78 million losses per day  and have also been responsible for one third of both deaths and economic losses from weather-, climate- and water-related disasters, according to WMO statistics from 1970-2019. But the death toll has fallen dramatically during the 50 year-period thanks to improvements in forecasting, warning and disaster risk reduction coordinated by WMO’s Tropical Cyclone Programme.

As part of activities to roll out the Early Warnings for All initiative, the Hurricane Committee will host a high-level panel on Hurricane Early Warnings for All. Its objective is to ensure that hurricane warnings are understood and acted upon by the most exposed and vulnerable in the broader context of disaster resilience.

“The WMO Hurricane Committee's work is critical to keeping our nations coordinated well before the next storm threatens. Impacts from a single storm can affect multiple countries, so it is vital we have a plan, coordinate our efforts, and share challenges and best practices", said Jamie Rhome, acting Hurricane Committee Chair and acting Director of the WMO Regional Specialized Meteorological Center Miami/US National Hurricane Center.

This was the first in-person meeting of the Committee since 2019 and allowed for increased collaboration in advance of the upcoming season.  

“These storms often produce devasting impacts in the island nations in the Caribbean which causes significant economic loss and loss of life. The work of this Committee ensures that our collective communication of these threats is effective and consistent to the people we serve,” said Arlene Aaron-Morrison, the newly elected English-speaking Vice-Chair from Trinidad and Tobago and the first woman to hold the position. The Committee's Spanish-speaking Vice-Chair remains long-time member Jose Rubiera from Cuba.  

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Sixth Assessment Report projects that the global proportion of tropical cyclones that reach very intense (category 4-5) levels, along with their peak winds and rainfall rates, are expected to increase with climate warming. Developing countries and small islands are on the frontlines.

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