Why and How to Name Hurricanes?

Until the early 1950s, hurricanes were classified according to the year in which they occurred and the order of their occurrence within that year.

However, this categorization led to various difficulties in written and verbal communication. In some cases, two or more storms or hurricanes were given the same name, and storm warnings broadcast from radio stations could confuse citizens. A new classification type was needed to prevent such confusion and false rumors.

In the United States, storms began to be named with female names in 1953. In 1978 and 79, both male and female names were used to describe storms in the North Pacific and Atlantic basins.

How are the names chosen?

In the old days, names were not planned in advance and were chosen at random. For example, the storm that destroyed the mast of a boat named Antje was called "Hurricane Antje". Storms were sometimes named after the place they hit, such as the Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900.

Almost all the names given to hurricanes are now predetermined. For example, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has six different lists of names for hurricanes. These alphabetical lists consist of 21 names (the letters Q, U, X, Y and Z are not used) and are rotated every six years. For example, the list for 2023 started with Arlene and ended with Whitney. The same list will be available again in 2029.

An exception to this naming convention is when the storm is too deadly or costly. Because it would be inappropriate to name a future disaster after one that has already been memorialized, the name is retired and replaced with a different one (such as 'Katia' for 'Katrina').

In fact, the only criteria for naming storms is that the name chosen should be simple and familiar to the people of the affected region. When naming storms in the Atlantic, names like Cristobal and Edouard are chosen that are familiar to Caribbean peoples. Similarly, hurricanes in the Central Pacific may have Hawaiian names such as Moke and Walaka.

If the names on the list run out...

But what happens when there are more than 21 tropical storms in a season? In such cases, an additional list of names is at the ready. This has only happened twice in the last 15 years, most recently in 2020, when the list ran out of names in mid-September.

Until recently, this gap was filled by the letters of the Greek alphabet. With the decision taken in 2021, this practice was canceled. The reason given was the focus on hard-to-pronounce Greek names rather than the effects of the storm.

Why were women's names used in the past?

In the early 1950s, storms were only named after women. The reason for this is not entirely clear, but it is thought that the maritime tradition of referring to the ocean as a woman played a role in this habit.

When storms started to be named after women, weather forecasters started to refer to them as women. Sexist stereotypes (such as 'unpredictable', 'flirtatious') were used to describe the 'behavior' of storms. In response, women meteorologists and feminist activists worked to change these practices and were successful.

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