Hurricanes: How Storms Are Named

Every year before the start of hurricane season, a list of names is released to the public, which will be used to identify future storms. Ever wonder how the names on the list are selected? Hurricanes get their name from the United Nations World Meteorological Organization (WMO). Hurricanes that are named in the Atlantic Basin have six different lists that are recycled every seventh year.

When a storm causes significant damage or is costly, the name of that storm is retired and the WMO picks a new name to add to that year's list. Hurricane Irene, Katrina and Sandy have each been retired in recent years.

Names are chosen by the committee to reflect the culture and different dynamics in the basin that the storm could impact, according to Expert Meteorologist Dan Kottlowski. For example, Atlantic Basin names consist of some English names and Spanish names.

Storms are named when they reach tropical storm status and have winds above 39 miles per hour. There are 21 names in the list. The letters Q, U, X, Y and Z are not used because there are not many names with those letters.

In the case that the alphabet is used the entire way through in one season, letters from the Greek alphabet are then used to create names. A recent example of this was in 2005 when the Greek names, Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and Epsilon and Zeta were used, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

History of Naming Storms

Hurricanes have been named for hundreds of years. In the West Indies, storms were named after the Saint's Day on which the hurricane made landfall, according to the NOAA.

During the late 1800s, a meteorologist from Australia started using women's names to identify tropical storms.

In the 1941 novel "Storm," by George R. Stewart, a storm was named after a woman, which helped make female names popular during WWII. Naming storms helped the Army and Navy be able to more accurately track storms that they plotted over the Pacific Ocean.

In 1953, the United States started using women's names to identify tropical storms in the Atlantic Basin. By 1978, male and female names were used in the Eastern North Pacific list. It was not until 1979 until both gender names were used to name Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico storms.

According to NOAA, the use of names is simpler to remember than latitude and longitude coordinates, which was one their original method of identifying storms.

Story by Staff Writer Molly Cochran

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