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The Names of Three 2015 Hurricanes Are Being Retired

An infrared satellite view of Hurricane Patricia near peak intensity on October 23, 2015. Image credit: NASA/NOAA

Hurricane season—June 1 to November 30 this year—isn’t exactly the quietest time of the year. A few times each summer, the routinely sunny and warm days along the coast turn dark as a powerful storm rolls in from the sea. Some of those tropical cyclones turn out to be so uniquely tragic that meteorologists retire the name they assigned the storm.

And this is what just happened to three 2015 storms and hurricanes, Patricia, Erika, and Joaquin. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the authority in charge of maintaining the lists of names used for hurricanes, recently announced that in light of the death and damage caused by these storms last year, their names are now dropped from the rotating list and will not be used again for future hurricanes. The names will be replaced with Pamela, Elsa, and Julian, respectively, when the 2015 lists are reused in 2021.

Hurricane Patricia became the strongest tropical cyclone ever measured in terms of wind speed when it formed off the western coast of Mexico in October 2015. The hurricane achieved a mind-blowing maximum wind speed of 215 mph at its strongest, eclipsing the previous record of 195 mph measured in 2013’s Super Typhoon Haiyan as it neared landfall in the Philippines. Patricia came ashore in Mexico with winds of 150 mph, where it destroyed several small towns and killed several people.

Tropical Storm Erika didn’t develop particularly strong winds, but it generated prolific rainfall in August as it moved over the small Caribbean island of Dominica. Erika produced nearly a foot of rain on the mountainous island, causing flooding and landslides that killed at least 31 people. It doesn’t take a big storm to make a big mess.

Astronaut Scott Kelly photographed Hurricane Joaquin from the International Space Station on October 2, 2015. Image credit: Scott Kelly/NASA

Hurricane Joaquin exploded into the Atlantic’s strongest hurricane of 2015, defying forecasts and rapidly growing into a category 4 hurricane with winds of 155 mph as it sat almost stationary near the Bahamas. The hurricane laid waste to several small islands in the Bahamas, and the storm killed 33 people when a cargo ship named El Faro sank after getting caught in the most intense part of the hurricane.

All three of these tropical cyclones left behind so much death and destruction that the WMO decided that it would retire their names, as naming future storms Patricia, Erika, or Joaquin could cause undue grief and panic for survivors.

The WMO is the United Nations agency in charge of, among other things, maintaining the names used to classify tropical cyclones around the world. Each ocean basin has a slightly different naming policy—in the Atlantic and eastern Pacific, an alphabetical list is used that rotates once every six years. This year’s list of names in the Atlantic was last used in 2010, though with two new names: Ian and Tobias take the place of Igor and Tomas, both of which were retired after the 2010 hurricane season.

The Atlantic Ocean has already had one hurricane this year—Hurricane Alex formed in the middle of January—so when the next tropical storm or hurricane forms this summer, its name will be Bonnie, followed by Colin, Danielle, and so on through Walter. Names that begin with the letters Q, U, X, Y, and Z are omitted in the Atlantic because there aren’t enough common names that start with those letters to populate six lists and find potential replacements if one is retired.

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science
Last Month Was the Second-Warmest October on Record
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After an unseasonably toasty October, the numbers are in: Temperatures exceeded averages across the globe last month, making it the second-hottest October ever recorded, according to NASA.

As Mashable reports, worldwide temperatures reached 1.62°F (or 0.90°C) above the average in October. It just edged out global temperatures in October 2016 and came short of the all-time October record set in 2015. But while El Niño contributed to temperature spikes in 2015, there's no weather event to explain the anomaly this time around.

Records of global mean surface temperature changes date back to 1880. Of the 136 years in NASA’s database, the past three years (2014, 2015, 2016) have produced the greatest temperature anomalies. With the end of the year approaching, it looks like 2017 will end up breaking into the top three, and will likely be the warmest non-El Niño year on record.

While alarming, the record-breaking statistics shouldn't be surprising to anyone who follows global climate trends. The Earth has been warming at a rapid rate in recent decades, and climate scientists blame the carbon dioxide being dumped into the atmosphere by human activity.

Following a hot autumn, the next few months aren't looking to be any cooler: Like last winter and the winter before that, this season is expected to be unusually warm.

[h/t Mashable]

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Darren McCollester, Stringer, Getty Images
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This Just In
How One New York Town Is Preparing for the Next Hurricane Sandy
Darren McCollester, Stringer, Getty Images
Darren McCollester, Stringer, Getty Images

This past Sunday marked five years since Hurricane Sandy made landfall over the northeastern U.S. While the towns hit hardest by the storm are using the time as an opportunity to reflect on the lives, homes, and landscapes that were destroyed, they’re also continuing to prepare for the next mega-storm that will reach their shores. One beach town in Staten Island, New York is investing in a strategy that’s especially innovative: As Mother Jones reports, the surge barrier that’s being erected off the shores of Tottenville will repurpose nature to provide protection from natural disasters.

The government-funded project, called Living Breakwaters, is the brainchild of MacArthur Genius and landscape architect Kate Orff. Rather than building a conventional seawall, Orff and her firm envision a “living piece of infrastructure” containing an oyster reef that will continue to grow and respond to its environment even after construction ends. During a harsh storm, the breakwater would absorb the impact of dangerous waves barreling toward shore. It also has the potential to preserve the environment in the long term by decreasing erosion and wave activity.

Because Living Breakwaters is designed to act as part of its environment, it offers a few benefits in addition to flood protection. The creatures that make their homes on the reef will eventually purify the waters around them and make the shores of Tottenville cleaner and healthier. The reef will also be more discreet and pleasing to look at than a harsh concrete wall, meaning Tottenville residents can enjoy their clear ocean views without having to sacrifice safety.

The project is still in its preliminary stages, with construction scheduled to start in 2019 and wrap up in 2021. Rather than relying entirely on an experimental method, the community is integrating the breakwaters into a larger flood protection plan. Some tools, like wave-blocking sand dunes, will also take advantage of the area’s natural resources.

[h/t Mother Jones]

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