The Atlantic Hurricane Season begins around June 1st and can last until late November, in which an average of ten hurricanes form. Hurricanes stretch at least one hundred miles and are active for more than twenty-four hours, but begin as simple thunderstorms. These disturbances often start moving westward off the coast of Africa in what are known as “tropical waves.” Under the necessary conditions, they start to spin around a low-pressure center. When the winds reach sustained speeds of seventy-four mph or more, the storm system is classified as hurricane.
Prior to these natural disasters being named, hurricanes were tracked by year and the order in which they occurred that year. However, in the early 1950s, it was found that naming hurricanes with short, easily remembered names reduced confusion if more than one hurricane occurred at the same time.
In 1953, the United States began using female names for storms due to the maritime tradition of labeling the sea as female. Not only were hurricanes referred to as “she” by the media, they were also described using clichés of supposedly feminine behaviors, sometimes “teasing,” or “flirting,” with coastlines. In the 1970s women breaking into meteorology shed light on the inherently sexist practice, and by 1978 both male and females names were used.
The World Meteorological Organization is the organization that names the storms. For Atlantic hurricanes, there is a list of male and female names which are used on a six-year rotation. This year’s list will be used again in 2023. The list of names are in alphabetical order, and switch back and forth between male and female names. Hurricanes, the WMO notes, are not named after particular people. They are selected because they are familiar to people in different regions. That way, they are easy to remember and recognize for hurricane awareness and preparation.
The only exceptions are when storms are so deadly or costly that the continuing use of its name would be inappropriate. For example, the name Sandy will no longer be used as a hurricane name. If a terrible storm such as Sandy occurs, the offending name is removed from the list and replaced at annual WMO committee meetings. Eighty-three names have been removed since the lists were created.
If a storm occurs in the offseason, it will take the next name on the list based on the current calendar date. Each season includes a list of names for the following months. Under these circumstances, if tropical cyclone formed on December 28th, it would take a name from the previous season’s list of names. If a storm formed in February, it would be named from the subsequent season’s list of names. In the event that more than twenty-one named tropical cyclones occur in a season, being that the list excludes the letters Q, U, X, Y, and Z, any additional storms will take names from the Greek alphabet.
The use of names for hurricanes ultimately improves communications and prevents confusion. In the 2017 hurricane season, Hurricane Ophelia was the most recent storm to date. In future months, names such as Philippe will be used as storms pour into our communities. Hurricanes will continue to have damaging effects in the world with name after name being given their own story.
Graphics: Maraea Garcia