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BLOG : How do Hurricanes get their names?

Gustav, Hanna, Ike – these are all Atlantic storms currently active – and with Atlantic hurricane season now in full swing we’ll hear more names as more and more storms develop – such as Josephine, the latest one.

Here are this year’s Atlantic names: Arthur, Bertha, ,Cristobal, Dolly, Edouard, Fay, Gustav, Hanna, Ike, Josephine, Kyle, Laura, Marco, Nana, Omar, Paloma, Rene, Sally, Teddy, Vicky, Wilfred.

Of course in the record breaking hurricane season of 2005 that spawned Hurricane’s Katrina and Rita they used all their names up and had to do something they’d never done before – start all over again!

They used the Greek alphabet – Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Epsilon and finally, Zeta – all up 27 named storms from that season. This year we’re now up to number 10 and there’s still quite a way to go – with September and October strong months for hurricane formation. In November they tail off and the hurricane season ends on November 30. Incidentally our Tropical Cyclone season starts Nov 1st and goes until the end of April.

So why name storms? It’s basically to make them easier to differentiate from each other – especially when there are multiple storms – and that leads to less confusion.

History of Hurricane Names (with help from NOAA)

For several hundred years, hurricanes in the West Indies were often named after the particular saint’s day on which the hurricane occurred. For example “Hurricane San Felipe” struck Puerto Rico on 13 September 1876. Another storm struck Puerto Rico on the same day in 1928, and this storm was named “Hurricane San Felipe the second.”

Later, latitude-longitude positions were used. However, experience has shown that using distinctive names in communications is quicker and less subject to error than the cumbersome latitude longitude identification methods.

Using women’s names became the practice during World War II, following the use of a woman’s name for a storm in the 1941 novel “Storm” by George R. Stewart. In 1951 the United States adopted a confusing plan to name storms by a phonetic alphabet (Able, Baker, Charlie), and in 1953 the nation’s weather services returned to using female names.

The practice of using female names exclusively ended in 1978 when names from both genders were used to designate storms in the eastern Pacific. A year later, male and female names were included in lists for the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.

The name lists, which have been agreed upon at international meetings of the World Meteorological Organization, have a French, Spanish, Dutch, and English flavour because hurricanes affect other nations and are tracked by the public and weather services of many countries.

The Tropical Prediction Centre in Miami, FL keeps a constant watch on oceanic storm-breeding grounds. Once a system with anticlockwise circulation (northern hemisphere) and wind speeds of 62km/h or greater is identified, the Centre gives the storm a name from the list for the current year. The letters Q, U, X, Y, and Z are not included because of the scarcity of names beginning with those letters.

Names associated with storms that have caused significant death and/or damage are usually retired from the list – such as Andrew and Katrina.

Oh and another thing I’m asked about – what’s the difference between Hurricanes, Typhoons and Cyclones? Well it’s where they currently are. Cyclones are southern hemisphere tropical storms that spin clockwise – hurricanes are the same thing (but in the northern hemisphere they spin the opposite way – anticlockwise). Hurricanes only form in the Atlantic Ocean and in the Pacific Ocean east of the International Dateline. Typhoons form in the Pacific Ocean west of the International Dateline. So, let’s say we have Hurricane Winston (topical!) and he’s in the Pacific Ocean moving west, then crosses the international dateline – he then is called a typhoon.

Confusing? I think so! I wish we called them all hurricanes – that would make far more sense. But I guess to others it’s good to have their regions clearly defined.

By the way, in all oceans – before they become a Typhoon, Cyclone or Hurricane – they start off as a Tropical Storm (winds sustained at gale force which is 62km/h – when that doubles to 120km/h they become a Typhoon, Cyclone or Hurricane).

(btw – satellite and radar images of what’s left of Gustav are still being updated hourly a few stories below)


Föehn on 4/09/2008 11:10pm

Perhaps the use of female names was founded on the saying (TIC) “No fury like a woman stormed!” LOL

Daniel E on 4/09/2008 10:24am

Thanks for writing that up, it’s good to know about those weather related things!

Mr. Pedantic on 4/09/2008 9:55am

“Of course in the record breaking hurricane season of 2005 that spawned Hurricane and Rita they used all their names up and had to do something they’d never done before – start all over again!”

Did you mean to say Hurricane Katrina And Hurricane Rita?
The sentence doesn’t make sense to me, not that i usually care about grammar.

WW Forecast Team on 4/09/2008 6:52pm

That’s not pedantic – that is a mistake!  And you’re right!

Thanks for pointing it out!


Phil. (have edited story)

weather-nut on 4/09/2008 9:18pm

Also don’t mean to be pedantic but …

If you’re making a global comparison with Hurricanes, Typhoons and Tropical Cyclones, then technically ‘Tropical Cyclones’ should not be referred to as simply ‘Cyclones’. Cyclones are essentially ordinary depressions or lows and in many places around the world (including the US) they are still referred to as such. Tropical Cyclones also have a completely different structure to a normal Cyclone. The problem is that, somewhere along the line, our tropical neighbours got lazy and ended up dropping the ‘Tropical’ part of ‘Tropical Cyclone’. So, to save confusion, we now refer to our Mid-latitude Cyclones as simply depressions or lows.

Also the term ‘Typhoon’ is only used in the tropical NW Pacific or Asian region (not the SW Pacific). In the tropical SW Pacific and Australiasian regions, we simply call them Tropical Cyclones (or used to).

Categorising Tropical Cyclones can also vary from region to region. In the SW Pacific we use the Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) Scale, which differs from the US Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale. Here a Tropical Cyclone only has to reach a maximum mean-wind speeds of 63 km/h to become Cat. 1 (actually slightly more complicated than that) and would have to reach Cat. 3 (mean-wind speeds of 118 km/h) to be the equivalent to a Cat. 1 Hurricane in the US or a Typhoon in Asia (although subsequent Hurricanes and Typhoon categories also differ).

See: ‘Tropical cyclone scales’

Kathryn on 4/09/2008 3:37am

Thanks for that. Its something Iv’e always wondered about. Its so nice to have somewhere to go now to ask these sorts of questions.:-)
What a great day today…….Iv’e even managed to get out and start weeding the vege garden, now that its not drowning! Off now to play outside with the kids in the SUN!!!!

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