How are hurricanes named? Read about the history of hurricane naming protocol, and the current naming system.
The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 through November 30. In addition to the National Hurricane Center's annual predictions before the season starts, and the very real and vitally important concerns about the storms themselves, there is always a question about how hurricanes are named. So, here are seven things you should know about Hurricane names.
- For a while, we used only female names.
The United States began naming storms with female-only names in 1953. Male names weren't introduced until 1978. A hurricane was referred to as a “she” until the mid-1970s, when women meteorologists pointed out the sexist implications of the naming system.
- Some names will never be used again.
The names of hurricanes that have been particularly destructive are struck from the lists of naming options. The names Katrina, Sandy and Matthew, for example, have all been removed.
- You can’t submit your name.
The only time the lists are changed is when a name is retired (see above). The World Meteorological Organization maintains the lists, and only uses names that are short, gender-balanced and easy to remember.
- There’s a strict procedure.
Hurricanes now draw their names from a set list. There are several lists per region and each list is recycled. For example, the Atlantic region has six lists and on the seventh year, we start over with the first list. The names are in alphabetical order.
- People used to name hurricanes after saints.
For several hundred years, the Caribbean Islands named hurricanes after the saint’s day they fell on. For example, on September 13, 1928, a hurricane struck Puerto Rico on Saint Phillip’s day, and was named San Felipe. Half a century later, a second hurricane struck on the same day and was named San Felipe the second.
- Tropical storms aren’t given names until they spin.
When tropical storms have wind speeds of 39 miles per hour and begin to rotate, they are considered “name-able.”
- The naming system began to avoid confusion.
Tropical storms used to be tracked by the order and year in which they appeared. But often multiple storms will pop up at the same time, and designating different names helps trackers communicate.
Frank Graff is a producer/reporter with UNC-TV, focusing on Sci Tech Now North Carolina, a weekly science series that airs Tuesdays on UNC-TV. In addition to producing these special segments, Frank will provide additional information related to his stories through this North Carolina Science Now Reporter's Blog!