One of the ways that we know a storm is a serious weather event is whether it attains the status of a “named storm.” Hurricanes, being the most energetic of storms in the North Atlantic and the eastern North Pacific, are given names to ease in identification and to speed communications. The National Weather Service actually maintains names for six years into the future. Here are the names on the list for 2023:
Arlene, Bret, Cindy, Don, Emily, Franklin, Gert, Harold, Idalia, Jose, Katia, Lee, Margot, Nigel, Ophelia, Philippe, Rina, Sean, Tammy, Vince, Whitney.
How are the names decided on and how is the list curated? The origin of the list is explained on the NWS website.
“Since 1953, Atlantic tropical storms had been named from lists originated by the National Hurricane Center. They are now maintained and updated through a strict procedure by an international committee of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).
“There are actually six lists that are used in rotation and that are re-cycled every six years, i.e., the 2022 list will be used again in 2028. The only time that there is a change in the list is if a storm is so deadly or costly that the future use of its name for a different storm would be inappropriate for reasons of sensitivity. If that occurs, then at an annual meeting by the WMO committee (called primarily to discuss many other issues) the offending name is stricken from the list and another name is selected to replace it. Several names have been retired since the lists were created.
“For several hundred years many hurricanes in the West Indies were named after the particular saint’s day on which the hurricane occurred. Ivan R. Tannehill describes in his book Hurricanes the major tropical storms of recorded history and mentions many hurricanes named after saints. For example, there was Hurricane Santa Ana that struck Puerto Rico with exceptional violence on July 26, 1825, and San Felipe (the first) and San Felipe (the second) that hit Puerto Rico on September 13 in both 1876 and 1928.
“Tannehill also tells of Clement Wragge, an Australian meteorologist who began giving women’s names to tropical storms before the end of the 19th century.
“An early example of the use of a woman’s name for a storm was in the novel Storm by George R. Stewart, published by Random House in 1941, and since filmed by Walt Disney. During World War II this practice became widespread in weather map discussions among forecasters, especially US Army and Navy meteorologists who plotted the movements of storms over the wide expanses of the Pacific Ocean.
“In 1953, the United States abandoned a confusing two-year old plan to name storms by a phonetic alphabet (Able, Baker, Charlie) when a new, international phonetic alphabet was introduced. That year, the United States began using female names for storms.
“The practice of naming hurricanes solely after women came to an end in 1978 when men’s and women’s names were included in the Eastern North Pacific storm lists. In 1979, male and female names were included in lists for the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.
“If a storm forms during the off-season, it will take the next name in the list based on the current calendar date. For example, if a tropical cyclone formed on December 28th, it would take the 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.
“There can be times when several of names are needed at once. Four hurricanes occurred simultaneously on two occasions. The first occasion was August 22, 1893, and one of these eventually killed 1,000 to 2,000 people in Georgia and South Carolina. The second occurrence was September 25, 1998, when Georges, Ivan, Jeanne and Karl persisted into September 27, 1998 as hurricanes. Georges ended up taking the lives of thousands in Haiti. In 1971 from September 10 to 12, there were five tropical cyclones at the same time; however, while most of these ultimately achieved hurricane intensity, there were never more than two hurricanes at any one time.
“In the event that more than 21 named tropical cyclones occur in the Atlantic basin in a season, or more than twenty-four named tropical cyclones in the eastern North Pacific basin, any additional storms will take names from an alternate list of names approved by the WMO for each basin. Here are the pronunciation guides for the Atlantic basin and the eastern North Pacific basin.”