How Tropical Storms get their Names

During the years following Hurricane Andrew, there was a sharp decrease in the number of newborn children named Andrew. This phenomenon is called the “baby names hurricane effect.” This effect results in new parents choosing baby names that are far removed from the storms that wreak such havoc and destruction on the coastal areas of the United States. It’s pretty likely that the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) never considered such an adverse result.

WMO has six lists of 21 names for hurricanes that are rotated every 6 years. Names are alternated on an alphabetical list by gender and are used in sequence. The letters Q, U, X, Y and Z are omitted since there are very few names beginning with these letters. Therefore, Ursula or Xavier might be safe baby names.

Hurricane names are only retired if a storm is particularly destructive or if there’s a high loss of life. A new name with the same letter is slipped into the place of a retired name on the rotational list. Affected countries can also request a name’s resignation to prevent confusion for descriptive, legal, and sensitivity reasons. The WMO provides two separate lists for storms, one for Atlantic hurricanes and another for Pacific storms.

Naming hurricanes aids forecasters and citizens by providing a uniform identifier for a storm. In the past, there was considerable confusion when storms used to be identified by latitude and longitude. Ships and aircraft used to receive weather reports by radio and the use of geographical positions would increase the chance of errors. Long before any uniform naming system was adopted, Pacific countries named tropical storms by the particular Saints Day on which they occurred, simply adding a #2, #3, etc., if storms occurred in subsequent years.

In 1953, the Weather Service began using female names for storms. An alphabetical list was used in sequence. It would take 26 long years before male names would be used. In 1979, the WMO began using alternate male and female names. We now have equality among hurricane names and among the baby name hurricane effect.

Hurricanes are given a name when the reach tropical storm status with winds exceeding 39 mph. When storms are tropical depressions, they are given a number according to occurrence during the season. Most countries in the world name systems at the tropical storm development stage. In addition, if the number of tropical storms in a given season exceeds the 21 names on a list, storms are then named from the Greek alphabet, such as Alpha, Beta, and so on.