RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) - It's official: "Irene" is now retired. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) voted to remove the name from the six-year rotating list for Atlantic Basin tropical cyclones, citing its decision "because of the fatalities and damage it caused in August 2011." Irma is the new "I" name for that list, replacing Irene. Storm names are recycled, unless they are retired by the WMO, every six years. A name will be retired "for causing a considerable about of casualties or damage," according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Retirements are nothing new for cyclones in the Atlantic Basin. Since 1954, there have been 75 storm names retired, with Irene becoming number 76.
NOAA released a brief summary of the storm's history along with the announcement today, saying, "Irene became a hurricane on Aug. 22 and intensified to a Category 3 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale on Aug. 24 while centered between Mayaguana and Grand Inagua in the Bahamas. It gradually weakened after crossing the Bahamas, making landfall in North Carolina on Aug. 27 as a Category 1 hurricane. Irene made another landfall the next day as a tropical storm very near Atlantic City, New Jersey. The center moved over Coney Island and Manhattan, New York, the same day." Irene caused catastrophic flooding inland in New Jersey, Massachusetts and Vermont (some of these areas had already received rain prior to Irene's arrival, and the area become inundated with rainwater).
Of course in Virginia, we are well-acquainted with Irene, as the storm produced widespread tree damage and also power-outages for days. Two tornadoes in Virginia are suspected to have briefly touched down from Irene, but they are of unknown intensity. Wind gusts at Richmond International Airport reached 70 mph (61 knots) with 5.37 inches of rainfall reported from Irene. Williamsburg reported a wind gust of 76 mph (66 knots), stronger than any gusts measured along Virginia's coast itself. This was because of a tight pressure gradient that developed over central Virginia as we were stuck in between the low pressure center of Irene east of us hugging along the Mid-Atlantic coastline and an approaching high pressure system to our northwest. Four people (Chesterfield Co, Brunswick Co, City of Newport News, City of Virginia Beach) were killed as a result of falling trees in these strong winds in Virginia. A fifth person died in Virginia Beach from rip currents and waves.
NOAA also released details about the devastating impact Irene had not only on the U.S., but on every region impacted in the Atlantic Basin. "Irene was directly responsible for 49 deaths: five in the Dominican Republic, three in Haiti, and 41 in the United States. For the United States, six deaths are attributed to storm surge/waves or rip currents, 15 to wind, including falling trees, and 21 to rainfall-induced floods. Including flood losses, damage in the United States is estimated to be $15.8 billion."
Here is a high-resolution NOAA/NASA image taken of Irene as she impacted the Bahamas in late August and approached the mainland United States.
Irene was one tropical cyclone in an active 2011 season for the Atlantic Basin: