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MAIN Arrow to Science Science Arrow to Meteorology Meteorology

How Do Hurricanes Get Their Names?

Hurricane KatrinaIn 2005, Rita's wind and waves turned Galveston and Houston into ghost towns.

New Orleans barely survived Katrina. Remember Camille, Andrew, Elena? What about Hortense?

Hurricanes on a first name basis

According to the Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory (AOML) the first use of a proper name for a tropical cyclone was by an Australian forecaster early in the 20th century.

He gave tropical cyclone names "after political figures whom he disliked" (true story) and "by properly naming a hurricane, the weatherman could publicly describe a politician as 'causing great distress' or 'wandering aimlessly about the Pacific.' "

Later, during World War II, US Army Air Corp and Navy meteorologists named Pacific storms after their girlfriends or wives, just like pilots had done with their fighter planes (although you'll have to decide for yourself whether the women were happy with having terrible cyclones named after them!)

From 1950 to 1952, tropical cyclones, including hurricanes in the North Atlantic Ocean, were identified by the standard radio names: Able; Baker; Charlie;... etc., but in 1953 the US Weather Bureau switched back to women's names. Then, in a politically correct move in 1979, the WMO and the US National Weather Service (NWS) added men's names.

Choosing names for cyclonic events, like hurricanes, that are potential international disasters takes the work of an international group. Names for these storms are approved by a committee of the World Meteorological Organization. There are six lists of hurricane names. The names are reused every six years unless a storm creates enough havoc to have its name retired. [Retired names]

But why name hurricanes at all?

Names just makes it easier to warn people about the dangerous ones. During peak hurricane season in late summer, there may be several storms heading in the same direction at the same time. If each one has a name, it makes talking about the storms less confusing.

Since the name list started in in 1950, the furthest they have gone down the list has been in recording-breaking year of 2005, the first season to use "V" and "W" names.

In fact, after using up all 21 names, forecasters resorted to using letters from the Greek alphabet for the first time, dubbing the last storms of that year Alpha, Beta, Gamma,
Delta, Epsilon and Zeta.


About the Author
Katrina Cramer-Diaz is a working mom with a background in education and plenty of experience in parenting. She lives in Virginia with her four children.

also see Arrow to HurricanesTop Ten Hurricane Tips | Stay Calm During Hurricane Season

Hurricane Cleanup & Recovery Tips

Hurricane Pictures | Hurricane Insurance


More about hurricane names around the Web:



Hurricane Names - Is Your Name Here?

How Stuff Works - Hurricane Names


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