Hurricane Irene was all across the news last week. As with most big hurricanes that threaten land, Irene’s human name has become a buzzword throughout her projected path. Millions of people are hearing, speaking, researching and remembering it, much like her cousins “Katrina,” “Rita,” and “Ike.”
But where do those names come from? Why do we give human names to violent, mindless masses of water and wind? The practice dates back to the 1950s, although people have been naming tropical cyclones for centuries.
Before the 1940s, only the worst storms were given names, usually based on the place or time of year they made landfall: There was the Sea Islands Hurricane of 1893, the Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900, the Miami Hurricane of 1926 and the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, to name a few. Scientists and forecasters often assigned unofficial numbers to tropical cyclones — Tropical Storm One, Hurricane Two, etc. — but the practice of using more memorable and relatable names didn’t begin until the 1950 hurricane season.
Next: What will be the name of future hurricanes?