News came down from a mountaintop high in the Alps today that the overlords who control the weather have preemptively retired a potential hurricane name in the eastern Pacific to prevent panic attacks and immature snickering around the world. That name, of course, is “Isis.”
Isis was slated to be assigned to the ninth tropical storm or hurricane to form in the eastern Pacific during the 2016 hurricane season, its origin coming from the famed Egyptian goddess, and not the brutal terrorist group whose name CNN has since copyrighted for exclusive use every 42 seconds. The coincidence was too great, however, and they replaced the name with “Ivette.”
The agency also removed “Odile” from the same basin’s rotation, replacing it with “Odalys.” Hurricane Odile killed nearly a dozen people when it crashed ashore on the Baja California peninsula last summer.
Unlike the cartoonish names some people slap randomly slap on blizzards, assigning names to tropical systems around the world is a highly coordinated and regulated task. The U.N. agency responsible for overseeing standards and practices in the science—the World Meteorological Organization—is also responsible for retiring these names as needed. The name of a tropical storm or hurricane usually isn’t retired unless it causes an abnormally large amount of death and destruction, such as Ivan or Andrew
Every once and a while, though, they’ll take the unusual step of preemptively retiring a name out of respect for one’s sensibilities. After all, the whole exercise of removing a name from the rotation is to keep people from dealing with undue amounts of stress and panic. Could you imagine how taxing it would be for residents of New Orleans to flip on the news and hear that another Hurricane Katrina was swirling in the Gulf?
The eastern Pacific has a weird history with vaguely offensive names. Take for instance the basin’s list back in 2001, which contained the names “Adolph” and “Israel.” After some understandable pushback against both that juxtaposition and not wanting to see headlines like “Israel Kills 4,500 in Mexico,” activists successfully lobbied to have the latter name replaced. The replacement name was indeed used, and Tropical Storm Ivo stayed relatively weak and never made landfall.
The whole “offended sensibilities” thing isn’t unfounded, either—as someone who went to college on the Gulf Coast a couple of years after Hurricane Dennis, I had some awkward interactions with people who lost their homes in that first of many tragic storms that made landfall in 2005. On the first day of my first class, someone approached me and said “It’s nothing personal, but I don’t like you because your name is Dennis and I lost my home in Hurricane Dennis.” We never spoke again.
Hurricane season in the eastern Pacific runs from May 15 through November 30, while it doesn’t begin in the Atlantic until June 1 (running through the same date). However, it’s possible but rare to see storms form outside of this window. The eastern Pacific is generally more active than its neighbor, and this should hold especially true this year, as El Niño years act like a wet blanket on hurricane activity in the Atlantic.
The first five names in the Atlantic this year are Ana, Bill, Claudette, Danny, and Erika, while the first five in the eastern Pacific are Andres, Blanca, Carlos, Dolores, and Enrique. Names are used on a rotating six-year cycle, so these names were last used in 2009.