Why tropical storms have names


A road in Puerto Rico that was damaged by overflooding of a river caused by Hurricane Fiona on Sept 18. Photo: TNS

With Fiona, Gaston, Hermine and Ian all swirling simultaneously on Saturday (Sept 24), the Atlantic Basin might have been mistaken for a bowl of alphabet soup.

The unusual outbreak of tropical cyclones – all the more jarring given the relative quiet of the 2022 Atlantic hurricane season – spoke to why those things have names.

As the National Hurricane Center and the World Meteorological Organization explain, affixing names makes things simpler for keeping track, beating the hay out of using something clunkier, such as, say, longitude-latitude coordinates.

Names are especially valuable when multiple storms are churning – like now, for instance – in the basin, which includes the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea.

Naming is hundreds of years old. Back in the day, in the West Indies hurricanes were named for saints’ days on which they coincided.

But the system as we know it didn’t begin until 1953, when the United States started using female names. That practice ended in 1978, and male and female names were used starting with the 1979 season.

The names aren’t chosen arbitrarily. The list is maintained and approved by a WMO international committee.

Six lists of names are used in an annual rotation system. Particularly deadly and destructive storms – the likes of Katrina, Sandy and Ida – are retired and replaced.

Ian, which is threatening to become a “major” hurricane, has a chance to become the second consecutive “I” retiree.

Let’s hope not. – Tribune News Service/The Philadelphia Inquirer/Anthony R. Wood

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