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How Hurricanes Get Their Names

Updated on September 12, 2008
 

As I write this, I am barely able to contain my excitement. After six long years of waiting, finally I will get my opportunity to take the world by storm...literally.

If not this year, than in 2014 for sure...or 2020...

I lost my last chance in 1969 when Hurricane Laurie threatened the Mexican coast as a promising category 2 hurricane and then fizzled into a weak tropical depression at landfall. How disappointing! But now I have another chance at immortality and I'm banking on global warming to assist me.

I no longer sneer at gas-guzzling SUV's clogging the roads and messing with my air quality. Instead, I give them a big thumbs up as I drive by. Bring it on! In the evenings, I visit the local bovine population and encourage them to be more flatulent. Every little bit helps. When Hurricane Laura arrives, I want her to be able to deliver. Long after I'm gone, old people will be talking. "Remember Laura?" they'll say with awed respect, trembling in fear at the memory of my namesake...

At the very least, I won't have to repeat or spell my name. That's what happened to my boss' wife, Katrina. Prior to August 29th, 2005, she could be overheard on the phone saying, "This is Katrina. No...Katrina. That's K-A-T-R-I-N-A. Katrina." After her namesake pretty much wiped New Orleans off of the map, she never had to spell her name again. "This is Katrina. Yes...as in the hurricane." Although, come to think of it, she didn't really handle fame very well at all and after a few months started referring to herself as Katie. That's K-A-T-I-E.

I've already decided that if Hurricane Laura lives up to my standards, I'll make my mother extremely happy and use the name she slapped on me at birth. If, however, it merely spits on a few hapless victims and destroys only a decrepit doghouse, I'll simply deny my birthright forever and go by Laurie.

So as Ike heads toward Galveston, while Josephine tries to pull herself together on the outer edges of the Caribbean Sea and some rather messy bad weather lurks in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean (probably the future Kyle)...Laura is still waiting to be born. There's plenty of time. It's only September and the end of hurricane season is still a couple of months away.

All of this thinking however made me curious about how hurricanes actually came by their names. It was Friday, there was nobody in the office but me, so in the spirit of the great American employee, I decided that googling was more appealing than actual work. This is what I discovered...

 

Although the practice of naming storms has been around for a few hundred years, it has undergone several transformations. Initially, for example, in the West Indies hurricanes were often named after the closest saint's day. So you could, in theory have a Hurricane San Felipe in one year and a Hurricane San Felipe the second in a following year. Later, hurricanes would become identified by latitude and longitude positions. Unfortunately, as you can see...both of these methods grew rather cumbersome.

The practice of using women's names actually began during World War II. Most attribute this method to the influence of George R. Stewart's 1941 novel "Storm," in which the protagonist is a large storm, named Maria (pronounced the same as Mariah), that terrorizes the California coast. Evidently dissatisfied with this system, the United States adopted its own confusing plan in 1951 to name storms using the phonetic alphabet, as in...Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, etc.

By 1953, the National Hurricane Center, put an end to this nonsense and returned to using just female names. In 1978, the practice of alternating names between genders came into existence for designating storms in the eastern Pacific. The following year, this practice was adopted for the Northern Atlantic region as well. Most attribute this change to the pressure of the feminist movement and is probably an early example of political correctness.

At the same time that the gender changes were made, various organizations thought it would be in the best interest of everyone to also reduce the number of possible name choices. Each region, such as the Northern Atlantic, the Western North Pacific, the Central North Pacific and the totally fictitious East Northwestern Central Pacific, devised their own lists of agreed upon names. To keep things simple and reduce the chance of cerebral implosion, we'll use the Northern Atlantic as our example for the remainder of this discussion.

In the North Atlantic, there are six lists that are rotated annually. No longer in the hands of the National Hurricane Center, these lists are compiled and maintained via international meetings held by the World Meteorological Organization. Since the WMO is a specialized branch of the United Nations, this explains why some names have a rather European influence.

Hurricane Names List

Are you on these lists?
Are you on these lists?

Retired Names of Hurricanes

With Lili’s retirement in 2002, a new name was added to the list.  MINE!
With Lili’s retirement in 2002, a new name was added to the list. MINE!

Armed with these simple lists, the Tropical Prediction Center (aka National Hurricane Center) in Miami, Florida keeps a constant vigil over the oceanic breeding grounds. Once a system meets the appropriate criteria, counterclockwise circulation and wind speeds in excess of 38 mph, it is given a name from the list for the current year. As you may have noticed, Q, U, X, Y and Z have been omitted on this list because of the scarcity of acceptable names beginning with those letters. I'm sure if the WMO had included the parents of the former Talulah Does the Hula in Hawaii in their decision making process, these letters could have been utilized.

Occasionally, the number of storms exceeds the available names. This happened most recently in the year 2005, when the list of 21 hurricane names was surpassed by six additional storms. For these rare cases, the Greek alphabet is utilized to supplement the list. In 2005, the 22nd - 27th storms were subsequently named Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Epsilon and Zeta.

Despite the list, eventually certain names are retired. For obvious reasons of sensitivity, storms that are particularly costly in both lives and property are stricken from the list at an annual meeting of the WMO and replaced with a new name of the same gender and letter. The retired name is not used again for at least a decade...if ever. The only exception to this retirement rule occurs in named storms prior to 1979 and the advent of the permanent rosters. In 1966, the name "Fern" was substituted with "Frieda" for no apparent reason. Convinced that there was more to this cover up than meets the eye, I did some research and came up with this...

This is the notorious Frieda. Born in the wilds of Asia in 1966...captured...separated from her family and sent to America destined to a life performing in circuses. Coincidence? I think not.

As I drove home from work today, I experienced an epiphany of sorts...either that or the relentless Arizona sun beating down on my head as I drove my convertible with the top down had finally succeeded in frying my few remaining brain cells.

Let's face it...hurricanes are expensive. It costs money to evacuate people, shelter them and then rebuild once a storm has passed. This cost is absorbed by our tax dollars and supplemented with donations. What if there was a better way to handle this debt? What if we could convince somebody else to foot the bill?

That's right, corporate sponsorship and naming rights! Think about it for a moment. NASCAR plasters its vehicles with all sorts of company names. We have Monster Stadium in San Francisco, Coors Field in Denver and the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, NH. Currently the Portland Trailblazers are seeking a corporate sponsor for their beloved Rose Garden. Institutions like schools, places of worship and hospitals have traditionally granted donors the right to name facilities in exchange for contributions. Securing naming rights for stadiums, theaters and other public gathering places is seen by companies as a form of advertising and deals worth millions of dollars have been consummated.

Picture it with me for a moment...

"Well, Bob...we thought perhaps Hurricane Microsoft was fizzling out...but it only appears to be rebooting."

Or...

"We'll be watching Hurricane Maxwell House closely as it continues to brew off the Florida coast."

I'll admit for some companies, being so closely associated with death and destruction might be considered somewhat detrimental to their image. However, if they can convince the male population to buy anything as long as they slap the image of a sexy woman on it, I'm sure they can find a way to peddle a hurricane to their advantage. Just so long as they avoid such misleading statements as "this hurricane has been brought to you by the makers of..."

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    • profile image

      Kavitha 2 years ago

      It's true flood waters are very dirty and being exoepsd to it is dangerous is risky. In the Philippines, every typhoon brought out floods to many areas. Their Health Department always reminded the people to never walked into flood water because othey might caught up with a disease from the rat urine called Leptospirosis.

    • spryte profile image
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      spryte 7 years ago from Arizona, USA

      Thank you Michael Jay :) I enjoyed doing the research for this piece almost as much as I did writing it. Keeping my fingers crossed for 2014.

    • Michael Jay profile image

      Michael Jay 7 years ago

      Wow! I was amazed by the information you have here. Thanks for sharing this wonderful hub! Very interesting.

    • profile image

      a friend 8 years ago

      freida ferns is a cheat and bad person

    • spryte profile image
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      spryte 8 years ago from Arizona, USA

      RK (aka Rolan):

      Yeah...I'd say your chances of being an infamous hurricane are rather slim. What were your parents thinking??!!!

      :)

    • RKHenry profile image

      RKHenry 8 years ago from Neighborhood museum in Somewhere, USA

      Didn't see Rolan either.

      Great hub and extremely interesting! I enjoyed very much.

    • spryte profile image
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      spryte 8 years ago from Arizona, USA

      Thanks Patty! :)

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 8 years ago from North America

      Very interesting with the lists of names. Great Hub!

    • spryte profile image
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      spryte 8 years ago from Arizona, USA

      Mcarolyn - Definitely not good. I used to live in tornado alley in Oklahoma and had to deal with the destructive forces of those storms. Scary, disastrous...but they still inspired awe.

      Thanks for dropping by!

    • mcarolyn profile image

      mcarolyn 8 years ago from Philippines

      It's so amazing how hurricanes got their names, but still the disaster it brings is not good.

    • spryte profile image
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      spryte 8 years ago from Arizona, USA

      I know :( New England is my team too...we can be united in our grief

      *moment of silent for Tom Brady even though he has bad taste in women*

      But I figure if Bruschi can come back from death's door to play again...Brady should be able to suck up a knee injury and return next year for vengeance. Who's filling Brady's shoes? I've missed the news on that...?

    • Dottie1 profile image

      Dottie1 8 years ago from MA, USA

      No spryte, I am not from Kansas, but I was thinking of the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday when my beloved New England Patriots defeated them 17-10 HURRAY! but then:( our N.E Patriot quarterback cutie pie Tom Brady got a severe injury to his left knee and is expected to miss the rest of the 2008 season!!!   BOOO YOU KANSAS CITY CHIEFS DIRTY PLAYERS!!!

    • spryte profile image
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      spryte 8 years ago from Arizona, USA

      Marisue - You are welcome :)

    • marisuewrites profile image

      marisuewrites 8 years ago from USA

      aww sprtye, that made me feel good, but i can get kinda stormy too....if I have the energy...mainly i'm so busy the storm sorta becomes a weak breeze. LOL =)) still, thank you!

    • spryte profile image
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      spryte 8 years ago from Arizona, USA

      Nah marisue...sorry. You are just too darn nice to have your own hurricane. You are sorta like those two women, April & May...showering and flowering. :)

      Dottie1: I'm always happy to help! You aren't from Kansas by any chance are you?

    • Dottie1 profile image

      Dottie1 8 years ago from MA, USA

      Yes spryte that makes a lot of sense. Dottie is my REAL nickname. Dorothy is my REAL REAL name, like in the Wizard of OZ! The Land of Tornadoes. Ya thanks this does make sense. Thank you very much!!!!!

    • marisuewrites profile image

      marisuewrites 8 years ago from USA

      Merrily Per-sued by the hurrican MariSue. mmm naaa don't like the way that wind blows....LOL

      great hub! funny and informative too!

    • spryte profile image
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      spryte 8 years ago from Arizona, USA

      himachal - Thank you :)

    • himachal profile image

      himachal 8 years ago from himachal

      very nice hub

    • spryte profile image
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      spryte 8 years ago from Arizona, USA

      Dottie -

      (If Dottie is your REAL nickname)...I guess most people associate you with tornadoes? :)

    • Dottie1 profile image

      Dottie1 8 years ago from MA, USA

      Nope, my names not listed.  Listed though are my brother-in-law, mother-in-law, cousin ,friend, neice, neighbor, son, fellow hubber Whitney, my street, my sister, and Lucky YOU!  No fair, I'm not there!!!!

    • countrywomen profile image

      countrywomen 8 years ago from Washington, USA

      Real funny comments. You guys rock esp dineane\spryte. LOL

    • spryte profile image
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      spryte 8 years ago from Arizona, USA

      Dineane - Yeah that's one of the drawbacks of having a unique name. No peronalized keychains and no hurricanes. :( And well let's look at it this way...your cleaning frenzies sort of make you an anti-hurricane anyway. Instead of destruction...you leave rampant cleanliness in your wake.

    • dineane profile image

      dineane 8 years ago from North Carolina

      My daughter (named after my grandmother - who probably got more mileage from it) can claim Camille, but I'm afraid a Hurricane Dineane will probably only happen during one of my cleaning frenzies :-) Good hub!

    • mistyhorizon2003 profile image

      Cindy Lawson 8 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands)

      Not just the Frieda/Fern thing Spryte, the whole question about where hurricanes get their names from.

      Hilarious Hub so thanks for the giggle.

    • spryte profile image
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      spryte 8 years ago from Arizona, USA

      Thanks for being so supportive Ashwin! I can see you understand how important this impending onslaught of nature is to me and I am grateful. Sometimes it's just not enough to snap a few twigs when you can uproot entire trees. A woman has to take advantage of such strength when made available. :) PS - If you catch any typos...I know YOU would tell me, right?

      Amanda: Mindy?! I don't know if I'd settle for Mindy if my name was Amanda. Maybe Mandy... Let's see...you have Ana, Arlene and Andrea in the way of your immortality. The last "A" was retired in 2001...so the odds are going in your favor that it will happen again shortly. I wonder who has to be bribed at the WMO? Thanks for the comment!

      Misty: I was very disturbed to learn about that whole Frieda/Fern incident as well (that was the question I answered for you, right?). I'm glad I made you giggle!

    • mistyhorizon2003 profile image

      Cindy Lawson 8 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands)

      Great Hub Spryte and answered a question I have often wondered about, plus making me giggle all the way through :)

    • Amanda Severn profile image

      Amanda Severn 8 years ago from UK

      Fab Hub Spryte. I learned loads, but no hurricane Amanda on any of those lists. I guess I'll have to be satisfied with Mindy (MINDY!! Really? MINDY!!) in 2009. I'm sure Laura will be a rip roaring success in more ways than one!

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      ASHWINSPGA 8 years ago from Lion City ( Singapore)

      Hey Laurie sweetie don't you worry k, there was this author by the name of Laurie Mylroie who was a walking explosive in every sense of the word. She was a controversial author and her writings were viewed as being influential among the neoconservatives during the buildup to the 2003 invasiion of Iraq. If there were a hurricane to be named after you rest assured it will definetley be major news k. There is hope yet my dear. :=) great hub. your writings always bring a smile to my face. thumbs up

    • spryte profile image
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      spryte 8 years ago from Arizona, USA

      Chef: I'll keep my fingers crossed that Jose, Joaquin and Jerry are soon retired so that the WMB can replace one of them with a more reasonable name like Jeff.

      Christoph: It seems that Cristobal was merely a rather embarrassing tropical storm that bypassed Cape Hatteras and then dripped water on everyone from there to Novia Scotia...where it reportedly flooded a few basements. If I were you, I'd completely disown it. Perhaps you'll get luckier with Chris in 2012 or have another go with Cristobal in 2014. Tough break there...

      Misha: YES!! You got it! My husband didn't...but I had faith that somebody would. :) Thank you!

      countrywomen: I bet you'd make a devastating hurricane (a compliment absolutely)! Damn...now I have to worry that my hurricane won't be offensive enough.... :)

    • countrywomen profile image

      countrywomen 8 years ago from Washington, USA

      Nice info about Hurricanes. Don't worry about name changing as Shakespeare says What's in a name? A rose(laurie) by any other name would smell(with no BO) as sweet. LOL

    • Misha profile image

      Misha 8 years ago from DC Area

      "this hurricane has been brought to you..." ROFLMAO!

    • Christoph Reilly profile image

      Christoph Reilly 8 years ago from St. Louis

      I have to wait till 2012 for Chris? That sucks. What happened to Cristobal? Did I sleep through it? I am looking forward to Laura, though. She could do some damage! Great hub!

    • Chef Jeff profile image

      Chef Jeff 8 years ago from Universe, Milky Way, Outer Arm, Sol, Earth, Western Hemisphere, North America, Illinois, Chicago.

      Yeah, yeah - they never get JEFF on that list! I feel robbed! LOL!!!

      Great, informative hub!

    • spryte profile image
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      spryte 8 years ago from Arizona, USA

      I can't do that!! If it strays over the equator and into the South Atlantic, it's no longer subject to the list...*sniffle* It would no longer be me.

      Gotta keep it north...but since I had a crappy vacation in Belize, I'm not against the suggestion of sending it there. (Just kidding...just kidding...I loved Belize! Really!)

    • ProCW profile image

      ProCW 8 years ago from South Carolina

      make it go to antarctica or something! :) keep us both safe!!! :)

    • spryte profile image
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      spryte 8 years ago from Arizona, USA

      Hey Georgiakevin: Thanks & I'm glad you learned so much. I know I did while researching it. :)

      Proc: Yes, I'm afraid it's a case of love me...love my hurricane. Although I am worried a bit about Murphy's Law. If my luck runs the way it usually does, that hurricane (when it comes into existence) will probably make landfall on my sister's doorstep in Florida...and then I'll never hear the end of it. I'll try to employ that Law of Attraction thing and see if I can steer it away from both you and her. :)

    • ProCW profile image

      ProCW 8 years ago from South Carolina

      I can only imagine the destruction that your namesake will cause!!! Oh boy! :D

      I remember Hurricane Hugo from September 22, 1989... we were without so many of the things most of us take advantage of daily... no power... no running water... IT SUCKED!

      Gas here (South Carolina) has risen about $1.00 overnight because of your recent predecessor... I don't like hurricaines in the slightest! But, I guess I'll have to like your's... :)

      Good hub! Bad memories!!! :) Thumbs up though!

      ProCW

    • Georgiakevin profile image

      Georgiakevin 8 years ago from Central Georgia

      Great Hub! I learned so much and I can een spell Katrina!