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Ever Wondered How Hurricanes Are Named?

 Hurricane Harvey, hurricane Sandy, hurricane Dorian and hurricane Laura, the latest storm to hit the Southern states and the Gulf Coast. All these names probably sound familiar. Despite their destructive nature hurricane names almost sound cutesy. It turns out that hurricane names are not random at all. If you’ve ever wondered where these names come from and how they are picked, we’re here to clear it up for you.
Originally, hurricanes in the West Indies were named after the saint’s day on which the storms hit. For example, there have been two hurricanes, San Filipe, in Puerto Rico - one on September 13, 1876, and another on that same day in 1928. By the early 1900s, the Australian meteorologist Clement Wragge started a new system of assigning female names to tropical cyclones, which the United States officially adopted in 1953, in alphabetized order. The first storm to receive a female name was tropical storm, Alice, in 1953, according to the National Hurricane Center. Alice hit Florida, Cuba, and Central America in late May and early June of that year.
 
How hurricanes get their names aerial photo

Before the use of names was adopted, storms were categorized by latitude and longitude numbers. This system was easy for meteorologists to follow but widely seen as confusing by the general public. The use of private names allowed important information to be shared more effectively and made the storms easily identifiable for everyone. 

By the 1960s some feminist organizations started to take issue with the gendered naming method. In 1978, men’s names joined the storm list, alternating with the female names. So a storm name with an A, like Anne, would be the first in any given year, followed by B for Bernard, for example. “It made sense to broaden the pool of names and make them focus less on hurricanes as female entities only,” Jim Elsner, a professor of geography at Florida State University told Time Magazine. “I would imagine that it was viewed as somewhat sexist.” The first storm with a male name was hurricane Bob, which hit the Gulf Coast of the United States in 1979.


 

How are the names chosen?

How hurricanes get their names hurricane Irma aftermath, Florida

The World Meteorological Organization comes up with a list of names way before the storms hit. For the North Atlantic ocean, the WMO keeps six lists of 21 (one for every letter except Q, U, X, Y, and Z) male and female names that are used in rotation and recycled every six years. Laura is a little over halfway down the list of hurricane names to be used in 2020. Some of the next North Atlantic storm names you can expect are Nana, Omar, Paulette, Rene, Sally, Teddy, Vicky, and Wilfred. The 2020 list will be used again in 2026.

The West coast gets its hurricane names from six different lists, which include every letter except Q and U. Some of the names for Eastern North Pacific hurricanes this year are Norbert, Odalys, Polo, and Rachel. If there happen to be more than 21 storms in one season, the Greek alphabet is resorted to for additional names. 

Related: A Complete Guide to Hurricanes & Hurricane Season


Why are hurricane names retired? 

How hurricanes get their names palm tree in the wind

Now that the lists are established, it isn’t easy to change the names on them. Only when a hurricane is exceptionally catastrophic, is name is retired, according to the National Hurricane Center. For that reason, you’re not likely to see another hurricane Katrina (2005), Irma (2017), or Florence (2018). If a name is removed, the WMO replaces it with a new name. For example, the list of 2011 hurricane names featured Katia as a replacement for Katrina.


If you live in a storm-prone area be sure to be prepared and stay safe!

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