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Why Hurricanes Have Human Names

You might be surprised to wake up one day and realize that your highly revered name has been given to a Hurricane.

A lot of people would have wondered or still wondering why these disasters are given not just any names but human names, particularly female names – Hurricane Florence, Hurricane Maria, Hurricane Katrina and so on.

Does it mean women spell disaster? Or is it a mere coincidence?

Well, if you are in this category of people who have been asking a thousand and one questions on why Hurricanes have names, this is the best place to be at this time.

I was that curious also and my curiosity drove me into a mini research and I will be summarizing my findings in this piece.

For the benefit of some of us who are oblivious of what a Hurricane even means, let me just offer as little explanation as I can (I didn’t study Geology, I actually studied Communications), so I’m too generous to have offered to let you in on a what I found out.

Well, Hurricane is a storm which comes with a violent wind, in particular, a tropical cyclone in the Caribbean.

Hurricanes occur every year, and sometimes there could be multiple hurricanes(say two or three) happening at the same time.

So naming a hurricane would make it easier for meteorologists, researchers, emergency response workers, ship captains and citizens to communicate about specific hurricanes for a better understanding.

At least so that one wouldn’t go yarning gibberish or mixing things up when discussing these disasters.

The World Meteorological Organization develops a list of names that are assigned in alphabetical order to tropical storms as they are discovered in each hurricane season.

These names are not fixed as they are subject to be repeated, hence we can have Hurricane Florence this year and then have another Hurricane Florence some other time but at an interval of six years.

However, the names of especially severe storms are permanently retired from use especially when it causes so much death and damage that reusing the name would be insensitive and more like re-opening old wounds and making them fresh all over. For instance, in 2016, Hurricane Matthew and Hurricane Otto caused significant damages and fatalities. Out of respect for the people who suffered losses, the names “Matthew” and “Otto” were retired and will not be used again for tropical storms. Similarly, “Katrina” has been retired from the name list and will not be used again.

History of Atlantic Hurricane Names

Atlantic hurricanes have been given names for a few hundred years. People living in the Caribbean Islands named storms after the saint of the day from the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar for the day on which the hurricane occurred such as “Hurricane San Felipe.”

However, when two hurricanes struck on the same date in different years, the hurricanes would be referred to by names such as “Hurricane San Felipe the first” and “Hurricane San Felipe the second.”

In the early days of meteorology in the United States, storms were named with a latitude/longitude designation representing the location where the storm originated.

It was quite herculean to remember these names, so this resulted in errors in communication.

In a bid to make it easier, military meteorologists working in the Pacific began to use women’s names for storms during the Second World War.

So in 1953 it was adopted by the National Hurricane Center for use on storms originating in the Atlantic Ocean. Once this practice started, hurricane names quickly became part of common language, and public awareness of hurricanes increased dramatically.

In 1978, meteorologists watching storms in the eastern North Pacific began using men’s names for half of the storms.

Meteorologists for the Atlantic Ocean began using men’s names in 1979. For each year a list of 21 names, each starting with a different letter of the alphabet, was developed and arranged in alphabetical order (names beginning with the letters Q, U, X, Y and Z were not used).

The first tropical storm of the year was given the name beginning with the letter “A,” the second with the letter “B” and so on through the alphabet. During even-numbered years, men’s names were given to the odd-numbered storms and during odd-numbered years, women’s names were given to odd-numbered storms.

Today, the World Meteorological Organization maintains the lists of Atlantic hurricane names. They have six lists which are reused every six years.

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