Posted by: Jack Henry | September 15, 2020

Editor’s Corner: Hurricane Names

Hi folks,

I used to wonder how scientists and the news picked names for hurricanes, but thanks to an extensive explanation from Grammar Girl, I now have the answers. I have chopped and cut the original article, but it’s here if you’re interested.

Hurricanes = typhoons = tropical cyclones

First of all, hurricanes themselves are called different things in different parts of the world. When they form in the North Atlantic and eastern North Pacific they’re called “hurricanes.” If they form in the western North Pacific near China, Japan, and the Philippines, they’re called “typhoons.” And if they form in the western South Pacific or Indian Ocean, they’re called “tropical cyclones.”

Regardless of the name, they’re all the same—spinning storms that start over tropical waters. They have high winds of 74 mph or more, heavy rain, and storm surges. These surges can raise ocean waters up to 20 feet above normal. Needless to say, hurricanes present a deadly threat to people in coastal communities.

Grammar Girl goes on to tell us that, originally, hurricanes were named after the place where they landed. That makes sense, except that they may consistently land in the same place. This little map shows where they’re most common in the United States:

Florida is the big winner, with Texas and Louisiana trailing behind in a contest I wouldn’t want to be a part of.

Once we stopped using place names, we started using human names. This started happening during World War II:

During World War II, storms were given names that matched radio code names for letters of the alphabet—Able51 or Baker32, for example. They were also referred to by coordinates of their latitude and longitude.

In 1953, the U.S. National Hurricane Center began giving storms human names. The idea was to promote safety by helping people easily recognize storm names in warning messages. A name like “Ana” or “Marco” is easier to remember than “29.5N 79.6W,” for example.

Originally, all the names picked out for storms were female. In 1979, men’s names were added, and they now alternate with women’s names.

A few more interesting facts about hurricane names:

Eventually, an international committee of the World Meteorological Organization took over naming storms.

The WMO set up nine sets of names for nine world regions, from the North Atlantic to the Southwest Indian Ocean. Each region has its own set of male and female names. Some lists are alphabetical, but some aren’t. Some have contributions from countries in the region. In the Northern Indian Ocean region, for example, names come from Bangladesh, India, the Maldives, Myanmar, Oman, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Thailand.

The North Atlantic region, which includes the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, has six separate lists of names. Those lists are recycled every six years.

The first storm of the year gets the first name at the top of the list. This year, we started with Arthur, Bertha, and Cristobal, and we’ll end with Vicky and Wilfred—if we get that many storms.

The names used in other regions reflect names that are common in that area. For example, names on the Eastern North Pacific list include Jimena, Ileana, and Tico. The Central North Pacific list has Akoni, Lala, and Huko. And the Western North Pacific list has Sanba, Fengshen, and Noru.

A couple more things about hurricane names. The first, is that if a hurricane works really hard and is extremely destructive, its name is retired. Hurricane Mitch, which killed over 10,000 people, is a name that has been removed from the list of recycled names.

And last, but not least, is our literary connection to hurricanes. The Tempest, one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays, was named after a hurricane, long, long ago.

For additional information, don’t forget to see Grammar Girl’s article.

Kara Church

Pronouns: she/her/hers

Technical Editor, Advisory

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