What's in a (storm's) name?
Every year, the World Meteorological Organization publishes its list of storm names for the Atlantic hurricane season. Giving storms names dates back to the 1950s and is mainly a public communication tool that improved upon an old system of designating storms based on longitude and latitude, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Before the modern naming convention, some storms in the Caribbean got names based on whether they hit during a Catholic Saint's Day. Other storms were named for the areas they affected, like the 1893 Sea Islands Hurricane, which struck near Savannah and ripped north, devastating much of South Carolina's coastline.
Andrea— Bo Petersen (@bopete) April 4, 2019
2019 hurricane names. You feel lucky?
Modern storm names are used on a six-year rotating basis, though new names are added to replace monikers that have been retired.
Until 1979, only women's names were used. At least one study, in 2014, suggested that people underestimated storms with traditionally female names. That study was later criticized, however, because of the long period of only female names was seen as skewing the data.
What does it take to get retired as a name? The storm must be "so deadly or costly that the future use of its name on a different storm would be inappropriate for reasons of sensitivity," according to the World Meteorological Organization, which votes every year on whether a name can be used again.
Here's some examples of storms that were damaging enough to be retired.
'I' for an 'I'
Among retired storms, the single most common names taken out of commission are those that begin with "I," according to NHC data.
Hurricane Irma in 2017 was the most recent that started with the letter "I" to affect South Carolina. It didn't have the broad impact and long-lasting flooding that hurricanes Florence (2018) or Matthew (2016) brought to the Palmetto State and was downgraded to a tropical storm by the time it reached the state. Still, it was a significant flooding event in Charleston.
Before then, Irma on four occasions made landfall on Caribbean islands as a Category 5 cyclone, the most destructive on the Saffir-Simpson scale, according to the National Hurricane Center's after-storm report. Irma eventually slammed into southwest Florida as a Category 3 storm before travelling though Georgia and South Carolina.
It proved to be the fifth-costliest storm on record, at an estimated $50 billion in total damage, according to NOAA.
Fran, Floyd, Florence, oh my!
In the past couple decades, three storms starting with "F" have followed similar patterns that ended up soaking the Pee Dee and northeastern part of South Carolina.
Hurricanes Fran (1996), Floyd (1999) and Florence (2018) all made landfall in the southern part of North Carolina, dumping rain along the border belt and causing flooding in the two states' interconnected river systems.
Florence was the costliest of the three, wreaking $25 billion worth of damage over its entire path through the Caribbean and into the Southeast. Floyd was the deadliest, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, claiming 77 lives as it hit the Bahamas and then traveled up the East Coast of the United States.
'H' packs a punch
Only five of the so far 89 retired names have started with H, but two of those were devastating for South Carolina.
The first, Hurricane Hazel in 1954, represents the most recent time a storm directly hit the Myrtle Beach area. Its top winds were estimated at 150 mph, making it a very strong Category 4 storm.
While the National Weather Service's assessment of the storm paints it as extremely destructive, if a similar storm hit the same area today it would be far more widespread — the Grand Strand has exploded in population and remains one of the fastest-growing sections of the state.
The second, Hurricane Hugo in 1989, is the benchmark by which people in the Charleston region measure all other storms. It made landfall as a Category 4 in McClellanville, caused more than 20-foot storm surge and created almost $19 billion in damage as it claimed 86 lives.