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How Hurricanes And Tropical Storms Are Named

Andrea. Barry. Chantal. No, it’s not the list of most popular baby names, but, rather, the names chosen for this year’s Atlantic hurricane season.

The practice of naming storms began centuries ago, as a way to keep track of them and talk about their impact. According to the World Meteorological Organization, storm names were originally derived from informal associations. For instance, if a tropical storm slammed into a ship named the Lorelei and sunk her, through word-of-mouth association, the storm eventually would become known as Lorelei.

To organize the process, meteorologists began developing lists of alphabetical names. That way, the first storm of the season would receive a name that begins with A, the second would receive a B name, and so on. Today, the responsibility of maintaining and updating the list of hurricane storm names lies with several international committees overseen by the World Meteorological Organization.

Want to know more about how hurricanes are named? Here are some interesting facts we uncovered:

When did the modern system of naming hurricanes begin?

In 1953, the National Hurricane Center originated a list to officially name tropical storms and hurricanes in the Atlantic. Today, the responsibility of naming storms in the Atlantic, and across the world, is divided between five regional associations, all of which operate under the supervision of the World Meteorological Organization. Regional Association (RA) IV, which includes the U.S. Atlantic and Pacific regions, is known as the Hurricane Committee.

At what point does a storm receive a name? Does it have to officially be declared a hurricane first?

According to NASA, a storm receives a name once it reaches tropical storm status; the name stays with the storm if it goes on to become a hurricane.

So, when does a tropical storm officially become a hurricane?

According to the National Hurricane Center, a tropical storm has maximum sustained winds between 39 and 73 mph, and it becomes a hurricane once maximum sustained winds reach 74 mph or higher. Hurricanes are then further classified according to their intensity: Those with winds between 74 and 95 mph are Category 1 hurricanes; winds between 96 and 110 mph are Category 2 hurricanes; winds between 111 and 130 mph are Category 3 hurricanes; winds between 131 and 155 mph are Category 4 hurricanes; and winds of 156mph or higher are Category 5 hurricanes.

Is it true that storms are named just for women?

They used to be. The original name lists developed by the National Hurricane Center featured only women’s names. But in 1979, men’s names were added to the lists, and they now alternate with the women’s names.

Why do some storm names seem familiar? Are they repeated?

Well, they can be. At its annual meeting, each regional association carries out the process of ratifying six separate lists of hurricane names. At these meetings, they check these lists of both male and female names to ensure that they are not associated with any particular celebrity or known person, but are familiar names to people living in that region. The lists then rotate every six years. So, this year’s list of Atlantic hurricane names will be re-used again in 2019, unless a name is retired.

Do they ever retire a hurricane name?

Yes. Historically, a hurricane name can be retired by its respective World Meteorological Organization committee when the storm turns out to be extremely destructive; the decision reflects compassion and sensitivity to the impact a future storm would have by carrying that same name. For instance, Katrina was stricken from the list of Atlantic storm names after 2005. The National Hurricane Center publishes a complete list of Atlantic hurricane names that have been retired since 1954.

So, what are the Atlantic hurricane names for 2013?

The storm names for the 2013 Hurricane Season in the Atlantic region are as follows:

  • Andrea -already used for 2013
  • Barry - already used for 2013
  • Chantal – already used for 2013
  • Dorian -already used for 2013
  • Erin - already used for 2013
  • Fernand – already used for 2013
  • Gabrielle – already used for 2013
  • Humberto – already used for 2013
  • Ingrid – already used for 2013
  • Jerry – already used for 2013
  • Karen – already used for 2013
  • Lorenzo – already used for 2013
  • Melissa – already used for 2013
  • Nestor
  • Olga
  • Pablo
  • Rebekah
  • Sebastien
  • Tanya
  • Van
  • Wendy

In the event that the storm names run through the established list, the World Meteorological Organization has determined that any additional storms will take names from the Greek alphabet, so storms would be named Alpha, Beta, Gamma, etc. (In 2005, there were so many storms that all the names on the list were used, as well as Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Epsilon and Zeta — marking the first year with enough storms to reach Zeta in the Greek alphabet.)

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is forecasting an active hurricane season in 2013, predicting anywhere from 13 to 20 named storms this year. So, it’s best to prepare for a hurricane well before it ever receives its moniker.

And when it does, stay on top of storm watches and warnings, and remember that the process of naming and tracking storms is the result of the combined efforts of many dedicated scientists and experts working around the world.

 

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