Mr. and Mrs. Schluter have seen their share of dramatic weather reports. After all, she’s 92 and he’s 104. This is the first and probably also the last time they will see their names take over the weather channels. Their names are Harvey and Irma.
The couple lives in Spokane, Washington—far from hurricanes. In fact, they have never been affected by extreme weather, as far as Irma Schluter could remember, she told The New York Times.
Yet after Hurricane Harvey brought massive flooding to Texas followed by Hurricane Irma’s ripping through Caribbean and, still dangerous, heading toward Florida, the Schluters will be lucky if people don’t call them “the hurricane couple.”
Such a nickname would be far out of character though.
Harvey and Irma Schluter’s lives starkly contrast with the destruction brought by their atmospheric namesakes. In addition to their two children, they have taken in more than 120 foster children, many disabled.
“It’s pretty amazing, huh?” said Dona Schluter, their 47-year-old daughter adopted at age 3, The Spokesman-Review reported. “They’re the most loving, wonderful, giving people I know.”
So how did their names happen to match two massive, consecutive hurricanes?
“I don’t know how they’ve done that, to have a Harvey and Irma,” Irma Schluter said. “I don’t know how that worked out.”
Indeed, a peculiar set of circumstances had to come together.
Since 1979, the World Meteorological Organization has used a formula to give names to Atlantic storms. The first storm of the season gets a name starting with “A”, the next one with “B”, and so on, alternating male and female names. That’s why Irma follows Harvey.
The organization doesn’t use random names though. It rotates through six lists so every six years it uses the same names again.
But the Schluters have been married for 75 years—how come they’ve never seen namesake storms before?
It’s because the naming has another rule: If a hurricane causes a lot of damage, its name becomes part of history and it would be confusing or even insensitive to use the same name again. That’s why names of prominent hurricanes get retired and replaced on the list.
Harvey was actually always followed by Irene. But since Hurricane Irene caused over $16 billion in damage and killed 49 people in 2011, the name was retired. When the same name list came up again in 2017, Harvey was, for the first time, followed by Irma.
It will probably also be the last time. Both Harvey and Irma have been (and Irma still is) historic hurricanes and their names are certain candidates for retirement.