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How Hurricanes are Named (and Why)

1950 marked the first year when Atlantic tropical cyclones received official names, although they still weren’t human ones. These initial names were taken from the Joint Army/Navy Phonetic Alphabet, so the 1950 season featured such bizarrely named storms as Hurricane Dog, Hurricane Easy, Hurricane Jig, Hurricane Item and Hurricane Love. There was also a Tropical Storm How in early October.

This tradition continued for the next two years, but it had a glaring flaw: The same list of names was recycled every year, so the 1950-’52 seasons each featured a Hurricane Able through at least Hurricane Fox. That became confusing, so in 1953 the NHC began using female human names, which proved far more successful. Not only did it make storm identification easier, but it also helped authorities and news outlets pass warnings on to the public – and helped the public pay attention to those warnings.

“[N]ames are presumed to be far easier to remember than numbers and technical terms,” the World Meteorological Organization explains on its website. “Many agree that appending names to storms makes it easier for the media to report on tropical cyclones, heightens interest in warnings and increases community preparedness.”

The first hurricane names were often borrowed from forecasters’ wives, but in 1979 men’s names were added to the mix, too. The WMO now maintains and updates the master list of names, which alternates between male and female; six lists are rotated from year to year in the Atlantic, so the 2011 names will be used again in 2017. But when a cyclone is bad enough, its name can be retired to honor its victims and survivors. Twenty-five Atlantic hurricane names have been retired since 2001, including Ivan (2004), Katrina (2005), Rita (2005), Ike (2008) and Tomas (2010).

Below is the list of names for the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season:

  • Arlene
  • Bret
  • Cindy
  • Don
  • Emily
  • Franklin
  • Gert
  • Harvey
  • Irene
  • Jose
  • Katia
  • Lee
  • Maria
  • Nate
  • Ophelia
  • Philippe
  • Rina
  • Sean
  • Tammy
  • Vince
  • Whitney

Naming Pacific cyclones is often more complex than in the Atlantic, with different lists for the Eastern, Central and Western Pacific, as well as for Australia, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, the North Indian Ocean and the Southwest Indian Ocean. See the NHC’s list of worldwide tropical cyclone names for more info.

Related:
Infographic: The Media vs. Mother Nature
Top 10 tornado videos
Irene is just the beginning of new hurricane season

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Megan, selected from Mother Nature Network

Mother Nature Network's mission is to help you improve your world. From covering the latest news on health, science, sustainable business practices and the latest trends in eco-friendly technology, MNN.com strives to give you the accurate, unbiased information you need to improve your world locally, globally, and personally all in a distinctive thoughtful, straightforward, and fun style.

66 comments

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12:49PM PST on Feb 12, 2013

Thank you Megan, for Sharing this!

4:53PM PST on Jan 27, 2013

Thanks. I also remember Hurricane Andrew as my daughter and family lived just north of Homestead

2:17AM PST on Jan 27, 2013

Interesting

9:15PM PST on Jan 26, 2013

thanks for the info

11:46AM PDT on Sep 28, 2012

Interesting, thank you for info.

11:44AM PDT on Sep 28, 2012

Interesting, thank you for info.

8:56AM PDT on Aug 17, 2012

secret's out now

10:56PM PST on Dec 18, 2011

oh god male names to.

10:39AM PDT on Sep 4, 2011

Thank you,very interesting

10:05AM PDT on Sep 4, 2011

Interesting., Always wondered how they came up with the names. Thanks

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