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What's in a name?

view of hurricane from space


Have you ever wondered how hurricanes are named or even why? We have your inside look at the history and reasoning behind it all.

Key Highlights

Naming hurricanes began in the 1950s

If a storm is deadly or extremely costly its name can be retired

Name lists are repeated every 6 years

A history lesson on hurricane names

The practice of naming storms happened fairly recently. It all started in 1950 when the U.S. Weather Bureau began using the phonetic alphabet, as in “Able-Baker-Charlie.” Before then, storms were often named after a particular saint's day when the hurricane hit, like Hurricane Santa Ana which struck Puerto Rico in 1825. But the phonetic alphabet didn't last. By 1953 the U.S. started using women’s names, and by 1979 men’s names joined the mix for Atlantic and Gulf storms.

2021 Atlantic Storm Names

Names are picked by a strict procedure led by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The team creates several name lists which repeat every 6 years. When a costly or deadly storm makes landfall, the name is retired from the list and replaced by a new one. A WMO committee meets annually for this. And here’s an interesting fact, the retired Atlantic storms weren't all necessarily major hurricanes. In fact, most were less intense storms, and their names were retired due to deadly flooding. 

But why are storms named in the first place? Using short names instead of longitude and latitude coordinates is quicker and easier to reference, leaving much less room for error. This is especially important when meteorologists must share information across hundreds of miles between weather stations, coastal bases, and ships at sea. Using names is also a lifesaver when two or more storms occur at the same time. For example, one hurricane can be churning in the Gulf of Mexico, while another one can be moving near the Atlantic coast.


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