How Hurricanes are Named

Ike, Katrina, Rita, Gaston – names many of us associate with destruction. They are names of hurricanes that have hit the coastlines of the United States in the past few years. But have you ever wondered how or why they ended up with those names? Or how hurricanes ended up with names at all?

Before the 1800s these large storms were simply referred to by the longitude and latitude where they began as tropical storms. However, this became somewhat confusing since such detailed information could become complicated to communicate. Mistakes were fairly frequent.

In the West Indies of the 1800s, people developed a new way to refer to the storms. The Catholic saints calendar associates certain days with one or more saints. It was a much simpler thing to remember a storm by the saint’s day on which it hit. So for many years in the West Indies, hurricanes had the names of saints.

Over a hundred years later in the United States, a man named George Stewart wrote a book that would change hurricanes for years to come. His book was called Storm and it was about a cross-country storm that took on a life of its own, a life of HER own. The storm became a character in the book and that character was named Maria.

In 1953 the National Hurricane Center took up the practice of naming hurricanes after women. Many, both then and now, look at Stewart’s book as a strong contributing factor for this phenomenon. The storms of that era became the namesakes of any number of women in the lives of the NHC’s meteorologists. One storm was even named after former first lady, Bess Truman.

Before long many feminists decided that this “honor” should be shared with men. The responsible meteorologists were convinced to begin bestowing men’s names on upcoming hurricanes. This practice continued and has since developed even further.

Today the World Meteorological Organization has standardized the whole process. Six different lists created by an international committee are used, each beginning at the letter A. A different list is used each year giving each list a six year rotation. The 2008 list was last used in 2002.

A final part of the naming process is the retirement of names. Some storms have just done enough. They should never revisit land. So the WMO put in place a process for putting these names to rest. Katrina, Rita, and Felix are a few that have been retired since 2005. 2008’s Ike will probably be added to the retirees very soon.

Hopefully no one will be associating your name with destruction anytime soon – because of hurricanes or aything else! But if you want to know, you can check the National Hurricane Center’s website to see if your name is on any of their lists for this year or the next six. (