The Cop Column
May 2003
Sgt. Rick Hord
Public Information Officer

A Hurricane by Any Other Name...

From "Alice" in May, 1953 to "Ana" in April, 2003, 459 Atlantic basin tropical storms and hurricanes have been given official names. Fifty-four of those names have been "retired." Of those 54, seven struck along or near the Emerald Coast: Camille (1969); Agnes (1972); Eloise (1975); Frederic (1979); Elena (1985); Opal (1995); and Georges (1998). A notable local storm whose name was not retired was "Erin," which struck our area as a Category-2 one month before the infamous "Opal." "Erin" was used in 2001, and is on the list for 2007.

Historically, the "average" Atlantic Hurricane Season produces 9 named storms: one in July, three in August, three in September, and two in October. In this hypothetical typical year, five of those nine named storms develop into hurricanes; with two reaching Category 3 or higher. September is the single month most likely to produce strong hurricanes.

The familiar system of names was adopted in 1953. Until 1979, only female names were used. The first Atlantic Hurricane given a male name was Category-1 "Bob," which hit Louisiana in July, 1979. That first co-ed season also produced the memorable "Frederic," which ravaged Dauphin Island, Alabama, and caused considerable damage along the Alabama and Northwest Florida coast.

This year's names: "Ana," Bill," "Claudette," "Danny," Erika," "Fabian," "Grace," "Henri," "Isabel," "Juan," "Kate," "Larry," "Mindy," "Nicholas," "Odette," "Peter," "Rose," "Sam," "Teresa," "Victor," and "Wanda."

Hurricane Season begins the first of June, and runs through November. About 97-percent of all tropical weather activity occurs during Hurricane Season. Hurricanes and Tropical Storms outside of the official season are possible, but rare. We had an April storm this year. "Olga" (the replacement name for "Opal") in 2001 persisted in the Atlantic until December 4. February is the only month in which an Atlantic tropical storm or hurricane has never been observed.

What does all this information about Hurricanes past mean? It means we should always be prepared for the possibility of a Hurricane. Averages and records may be interesting, and various predictions are offered every year about the upcoming Hurricane Season (active, average, or slow?), but the point to bear in mind is this: a "very slow" year with only one Hurricane could be a very active year... if that one storm hits us. Conversely, a "very active" year with 20 named storms might be considered "slow" if our area is never threatened.

Predicting the future path of a tropical storm or hurricane is difficult. This year, there's a major change at the National Hurricane Center. We will be seeing 5-day advance forecasts for the first time. Three day forecasts have been issued since 1964. The good news is the new 5-day forecasts should be as accurate as the 30-day forecasts were 15 years ago (about the time of "Eloise"). The bad news is, that's not very accurate. The average error in this year's five-day forecasts is expected to be on the order of 370 miles.