Hurricane Irene caused billions of dollars in damage and forced millions of people to evacuate, which could force the name "Irene" into retirement even though the storm was only a Category 1 when it made landfall and was downgraded to a tropical storm as it ravaged the Northeast.

Hurricane name retirement decisions are made by high-level committees, which take months to decide, so it's still too early to know if the name "Irene" will be retired.

In the Atlantic basin, tropical cyclone names (which include tropical storms and hurricanes) are retired, never to be used again, if the storm causes noteworthy destruction, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Retiring a storm name helps prevent confusion between a new storm with a historic, well-known one.

Irene's fierce winds and relentless rains are likely to make the storm the latest billion-dollar natural disaster of 2011.

"Although Irene never reached the highest category levels of intensity, it did cause enough havoc to at least merit consideration," said atmospheric scientist Eugene McCaul of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center.

Jeff Weber, an atmospheric scientist at the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., agreed that retirement is a possibility.

"Usually it takes a 5 to retire, but societal and economic impacts are also factors, so maybe," Weber said, referring to Category 5 storms, the highest level of the Saffir-Simpson scale of Hurricane Strength

Recently retired hurricane names include Charley ­­(2004), Dennis (2005), Dean (2007), Fabian (2003), Frances (2004), Felix (2007), Gustav (2008), Iris (2001), Isidore (2002), Isabel (2003), Ivan (2004), Ike (2008), Igor (2010), Juan (2003), Jeanne (2004), Katrina (2005), Lili (2002), Michelle (2001), Noel (2007), Paloma (2008), Rita (2005), Stan (2005), Tomas (2010) and Wilma (2005).

This article was reprinted with permission from OurAmazingPlanet.

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