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How Are Hurricanes Named?

Ever wonder how tropical storms and hurricanes are named? It’s not someone at a desk the World Meteorological Organization coming up with random names. There is actually a strict procedure in place to speed up communication and avoid confusion.

Old Naming System

Up until 1953, tropical storms and hurricanes in the United States were named by the year and the order of their occurrence. It turned out that a lot of confusion and false information was created by this naming system when two or more storms were occurring at the same time.

Tropical Storms vs. Hurricanes

In the Atlantic Ocean, storms that reach a sustained wind speed of 39 MPH are given a Tropical Storm name such as Tropical Storm Dorian. And if that tropical storm reaches a sustained wind speed of 74 MPH it’s considered a Hurricane and given the name Hurricane Dorian.

Male and Female Names

During WW2 in the Pacific, military meteorologists started to use female names for storms. This naming system turned out to be very successful because it was easy to communicate and caused fewer errors. So much so, that the National Hurricane Center adopted the system for the Atlantic in 1953. Once in use, hurricane names became more recognizable therefore increased public.

Meteorologists in 1978 and 1979 started using male names for the Pacific and the Atlantic.

21 Storms

Each year, 21 names were assigned in alphabetical order. Names starting with the letters QUXYZ were not used. The first storm of the year starts with “A” and the second storm with “B” and so on. Men’s names were used on odd-numbered storms on even-numbered years. Female names were used on even-numbered storms on odd-numbered years.

Six Lists

Currently, the World Meteorological Organization maintains six lists that are used in rotation and then reused every six years. The Atlantic has its own six rotating lists as well as the Eastern North Pacific and Central North Pacific. The only change is when a storm is so catastrophic, the name is retired and never to be used again. When the international committee meets, they decide which name should be stricken from the list and choose a name to replace it. They are updated and maintained by a strict procedure.

In the rare event that there or more than 21 storms per year, they are named with the Greek alphabet.

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