WMO retires Matthew and Otto from list of hurricane names

WMO retires Matthew and Otto from list of hurricane names



27 March 2017

Regional coordination and improved warnings promote public safety, save lives

The names Matthew and Otto have been retired as tropical cyclone names because of numerous fatalities and the extensive damage they caused in 2016. Matthew will be replaced by Martin, and Otto will be replaced by Owen in the rotating list of names used for tropical cyclones in the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, North Atlantic and eastern North Pacific Oceans.

The World Meteorological Organization’s Regional Association IV Hurricane Committee, which covers North America, Central America and the Caribbean, took the decision at a meeting hosted by Costa Rica's national meteorological and hydrological service in San Jose. It assessed the 2016 season with a view to improving hurricane warning services and regional coordination for the 2017 season and the future.

“WMO and its Members are continuously working to provide more accurate forecasting and warning services which are impact-based and address multiple hazards including wind speed, storm surge and coastal and inland flooding, “ said WMO Assistant Secretary-General Wenjian Zhang.

“Great progress has been made in reducing loss of lives from tropical cyclones and other natural hazards. Without timely and accurate warnings and region-wide coordination and cooperation, the casualties from Hurricane Matthew would have been even higher. But in the case of Haiti, in particular, loss of life was still much too high,” said Mr Zhang.

Tropical cyclone activity in the Atlantic basin during the 2016 season was above the 1981-2010 long–term average, according to WMO’s Regional Specialized Meteorological Center Miami (the US National Hurricane Center). 

Fifteen tropical storms formed, of which 7 became hurricanes, and 4 reached major hurricane strength (category 3 or higher on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale). By comparison, the 1981-2010 averages are 12 tropical storms, 6 hurricanes and 3 major hurricanes.

Tropical cyclone activity during the 2016 eastern North Pacific hurricane season was well above average.  Of the 21 tropical storms that formed, eleven became hurricanes, and five reached major hurricane strength (category 3 or higher on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale).  In comparison, the 1981-2010 averages are 15 tropical storms, 8 hurricanes and 4 major hurricanes, according to RSMC Miami.

RSMC Miami takes the lead in fostering regional coordination and training, and promoting improvements in warnings and operational activities. For instance, during the 2016 season, the U.S. Air Force and NOAA Reconnaissance Hurricane aircraft provided valuable meteorological data, helping to determine the intensity of Hurricane Matthew and other hurricanes that threatened land.

WMO Hurricane Committee retires Matthew and Otto from list of namesThe Committee made a decision, among others, to add “potential hurricane advisories” in the region’s Hurricane Operational Plan. This would make the advisory information available for tropical systems with the future potential to become hurricanes.  The decision is based on the need for eariy preparations to assist in dissster risk reduction and management.

WMO’s Regional Association for North America, Central America and the Caribbean, will hold its session, which takes place ever four years, on from 27 to 31 March, following the Hurricane Committee meeting.

Hurricane Matthew

The season’s most devastating hurricane was Matthew, which left a long trail of destruction from the Lesser Antilles across Haiti, eastern Cuba, and the Bahamas to the southeastern United States. 

Matthew made landfall in southern Haiti on 4 October – the first category 4 storm to do so since 1963. The Haitian government reported 546 dead, 128 missing and 439 injured from Hurricane Matthew. An estimated 2.4 million people were affected, with 1.4 million needing humanitarian assistance. In Haiti’s Grand Sud region, Hurricane Matthew damaged 85% of buildings. The force with which the hurricane struck caused the rainfall monitoring system to collapse.

Although Matthew hit an area of Cuba in which the population was not used to such intense hurricanes, there was no loss of human life thanks to good warnings and public communication. Matthew brought hurricane conditions to portions the southeastern coast of the United States causing $10 billion in damage making Matthew the tenth-most destructive U.S hurricane. There were 33 fatalities, most of them from drowning.

Hurricane Otto

Hurricane Otto Otto made landfall in southern Nicaragua on 24 November. It was the first hurricane in recorded history since 1851 to directly affect Costa Rica.

Otto was responsible for 18 deaths, including 10 in Costa Rica and 8 in Panama.  The late-season hurricane set several historical records, including 1) latest hurricane formation in a calendar year in the Caribbean Sea, 2) strongest hurricane on record for so late in the year, 3) latest hurricane landfall in the Atlantic basin within a calendar year, and 4) the farthest south a hurricane has made landfall in Central America.

Rotating list of names

The practice of naming storms (tropical cyclones) began years ago in order to help in the quick identification of storms in warning messages because names are presumed to be far easier to remember than numbers and technical terms.

In the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, North Atlantic and eastern North Pacific Oceans, WMO operates a rotating list of names in a six year cycle. If a cyclone is particularly deadly or costly, then its name is retired and replaced by another one. Martin and Owen (which replace Matthew and Otto) will be used for the first time in 2022.

More details available here

List of names for 2017 hurricane season available here

NOAA press release here

2017 season 

Beginning with the 2017 hurricane season, the U.S. National Weather Service (NWS) will issue storm surge watches and warnings to highlight areas along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts of the continental United States that have a significant risk of life-threatening inundation from a tropical cyclone, subtropical cyclone, post-tropical cyclone, or (pending final NWS approval) a potential tropical cyclone.

Storm surge is often the greatest threat to life and property from a tropical cyclone, and it doesn’t always occur at the same times or locations as a storm’s hazardous winds. In addition, while in most cases coastal residents can remain in their homes (or in a secure structure nearby) and be safe from a tropical cyclone’s winds, evacuations are generally needed to keep people safe from storm surge.

Having separate warnings for these two hazards will save lives by better identifying the specific tropical cyclone hazards communities face, and by enhancing public response to instructions from local officials.

Further details from NOAA available here

US National Weather Service storm surge animation available here

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