Since 1950, meteorologists have been assigning names to all hurricanes and tropical storms that form in the western North Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico. (A tropical storm is weaker than a hurricane and has maximum sustained winds of 39 to 73 miles per hour [63 to 117 kilometers per hour].) They have been naming eastern Pacific storms since 1959.
Names are assigned in advance for six-year cycles. The names are suggested by countries that lie in the path of hurricanes. The names must be approved by the Region 4 Hurricane Committee of the World Meteorological Organization, which is made up of representatives of countries affected by hurricanes. Once a tropical storm develops, staff members at the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida automatically assign it the next name on the list.
The Atlantic is assigned six lists of names, with one list used each year. Every sixth year, the first list begins again. The six lists are set up so the odd-numbered lists start with male names, and the even-numbered lists start with female names. Each name on the list starts with a different letter, for example, the name of the very first hurricane of the season starts with the letter A, the next starts with the letter B, and so on. The letters "Q", "U", "X", "Y" and "Z", however, are not used. If the previous hurricane of that certain name, for example, Katrina, is devastating, the name will be retired and no longer used again. There will never be another "Hurricane Andrew" or "Hurricane Fran" , either.
In the Pacific, they do things differently: they have four lists of Hawaiian names, and they don't reset it at the beginning of the storm season--the first storm of this year's Pacific storm season could get an H name if the last storm of last year's season had a E name using the Hawaiian alphabet. As in the Atlantic, very devastating storms have their names retired.
The Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory (AOML)'s site explains that 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. By properly naming a hurricane, the weatherman could publicly describe a politician (who perhaps was not too generous with weather-bureau appropriations) as 'causing great distress' or 'wandering aimlessly about the Pacific.'" During, US Army Air Corp and Navy meteorologists named Pacific storms after their girlfriends or wives. 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.
Why name hurricanes at all?
Names just make it easier to talk about the storms and 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 easier and less confusing. Since the name list started 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.
In North America, names were given to tropical storms that became hurricanes in the 1950s. At the time, all the names dispensed were female names. Male names were added in 1979. This process of naming tropical storms and hurricanes facilitated communication of the storms' paths across various regions.
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