Hurricane Irma’s Name: Why Is It Called Irma?

Getty Hurricane Irma approaches Puerto Rico in Luquillo, on September 6, 2017. Irma is expected to reach the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico by nightfall on September 6.

Following Hurricane Harvey, a massive Category 4 storm that devastated much of Texas, comes Hurricane Irma.

According to The New York Times, Irma, a Category 5 “….damaged buildings and infrastructure on several islands in the eastern Caribbean on Wednesday, packing winds of 185 M.P.H., though no deaths have been reported.”

So how are hurricanes named, and why is the latest storm brewing called “Irma?” The answer is actually less puzzling than one might guess. The storms are given memorable human names so that people can easily remember them and prepare for an impending disaster.

The National Hurricane Center (NHC) states the following on their website:

Experience shows that the use of short, distinctive names in written as well as spoken communications is quicker and less subject to error than the older, more cumbersome latitude-longitude identification methods. These advantages are especially important in exchanging detailed storm information between hundreds of widely scattered stations, coastal bases, and ships at sea.
The use of easily remembered names greatly reduces confusion when two or more tropical storms occur at the same time. For example, one hurricane can be moving slowly westward in the Gulf of Mexico, while at exactly the same time another hurricane can be moving rapidly northward along the Atlantic coast. In the past, confusion and false rumors have arisen when storm advisories broadcast from radio stations were mistaken for warnings concerning an entirely different storm located hundreds of miles away.

The names of of the storms are given by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). “For Atlantic hurricanes, there is a list of names for each of six years,” the NHC reported. “In other words, one list is repeated every seventh year. The only time that there is a change is if a storm is so deadly or costly that the future use of its name on a different storm would be inappropriate for obvious reasons of sensitivity. If that occurs, then at an annual meeting by the committee (called primarily to discuss many other issues) the offending name is stricken from the list and another name is selected to replace.”

The lists are arranged alphabetically, and the name of a new hurricane moves up one letter ahead of the prior hurricane, which is why Hurricane Irma follows Hurricane Harvey.

On a side note, the meaning behind the name “Irma” is of German origin and eerily translates to “Goddess of War.”

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