How Hurricanes and Tropical Storms are Named
Ana. Bill. Claudette. No, it’s not the list of most popular baby names, but, rather, the names of some tropical storms and hurricanes.
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 (WMO), 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 WMO.
If you’d like to know more about how hurricanes are named, you might enjoy these interesting facts:
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 WMO. 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?
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:
- Category 1: Winds between 74 and 95 mph
- Category 2: Winds between 96 and 110 mph
- Category 3: Winds between 111 and 129 mph
- Category 4: Winds between 130 and 156 mph
- Category 5: Winds greater than 157 mph
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. The lists are then checked by the associations to help 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, a list of Atlantic hurricane names will be re-used again, unless a name is retired.
Do They Ever Retire a Hurricane Name?
Yes. Historically, a hurricane name can be retired by its respective WMO 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, Harvey, Irma, Maria and Nate were stricken from the list of Atlantic storm names after 2017. The National Hurricane Center publishes a complete list of Atlantic hurricane names that have been retired since 1954.
In the event that the storm names run through the established list, the WMO has determined that any additional storms will take names from the Greek alphabet. So storms would be named Alpha, Beta, Gamma, etc.
Remember, the process of naming and tracking storms is the result of the combined efforts of many dedicated scientists and experts working around the world.
Originally published on July 16, 2013.