Original image

The Names of Three 2015 Hurricanes Are Being Retired

Original image
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.

Great Britain's Last Snow Patch Is About to Disappear Completely for the First Time in a Decade

Until recently, it was easy to find snow in Great Britain at any time of the year—you just had to know where to look. In previous Septembers, the island has been home to as many as 678 snow patches, residual pockets of snow and ice whose climates and topographies keep them frozen through the summer. This year, though, only two of Britain's snow patches have survived the summer. And the island is now on track to be completely snowless by the end of the season, Atlas Obscura reports.

Snow patches vary in size and durability, with some melting completely by late summer and others remaining a permanent fixture of the landscape. Garbh Choire Mor—a steep glacial depression on top of Scotland's third-highest mountain, Braeriach—contains two of the oldest snow patches in Britain, known as the Pinnacles and the Sphinx. The Pinnacles snow patch dissolved into a puddle earlier this month, and the Sphinx snow patch, the last surviving snow patch in Great Britain, is expected to do the same in the next few days.

Scotland experienced uncharacteristically hot weather this summer, with temperatures creeping into the low 90s as early as May. But more significant than the sweltering summer was the dry winter that preceded it. Below-average snowfall last year meant this year's snow patches were already smaller than usual when temperatures started heating up. If the Sphinx snow patch does vanish before winter arrives, it will mark the first time in over a decade and just the sixth time in the last 300 years that England, Scotland, and Wales are without a single patch of snow.

The Sphinx snow patch, though currently a measly version of its previous self, is still visible for now. But Iain Cameron, a veteran "snow patcher" who writes an annual report on snow for the UK's Royal Meteorological Society, says it could be gone as soon as Wednesday, September 20.

He's currently camped out on Garbh Choire Mor, waiting to document the patch's final moments. You can follow his updates on Twitter.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

Original image
Matt Tillett, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0
‘Harvey the Hurricane Hawk’ Returns to the Wild
Original image
Matt Tillett, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

Among the devastating news that came out of Houston during the last weekend in August, there was one video that warmed the hearts of those following Hurricane Harvey. A Cooper's hawk startled Texas cab driver William Bruso after climbing into his car and hunkering down before the storm. Now, after receiving care from both Bruso and local wildlife experts, the Associated Press reports that "Harvey the Hurricane Hawk" has been released.

As the video below shows, Bruso assumed that the bird sensed the severe weather approaching and sought refuge in his cab. "He seems to be scared," he said. "He doesn’t know what’s going on. Hurricane Harvey is getting ready to barrel down through over here, and he doesn’t want to leave."

Veterinarians at the Texas Wildlife Rehabilitation Coalition Wildlife Center later learned that the hawk—which is actually female—had suffered head trauma, likely by flying into something, and this had left her unable to fly. After she refused to leave his side, Bruso took her into his home, fed her chicken hearts, and let her spend the night. Liz Compton of the rehabilitation center came to pick her up the next day.

Following a week and a half of medical care, Harvey the hawk has returned to the skies. According to TWRC, the animal likely wouldn't have survived the storm if she hadn't been given shelter. Texans hoping to catch a glimpse of the viral celebrity may be able to spot her above Oak Point Park in Plano, Texas, where she was released on September 13.

[h/t AP]


More from mental floss studios