What’s in a Name and How are Tropical Storms and Hurricane Names Chosen?
During the olden days, the need for naming of tropical storms or hurricanes was important, and the matter of tracking storm locations was already practiced, albeit by way of crude and unsophisticated methods. Today, developing nations still have the same dilemma due to lack of facilities. However, through the workings of the United Nations (UN), a system to determine how tropical cyclones and hurricane names are chosen was established, in order to provide warnings to nations all across the globe. In order to appreciate the information about the current systems, and find out how do they name tropical storms, let us first find out about the methods used in the past.
Actually, the history involving the name selection process for these catastrophic weather disturbances are varied, and did not stem from just one particular methodology. Early Spanish seafarers and explorers used the names of saints as their basis for naming storms. A particular patron saint assigned to a specific date and nearest the day when the storm arrived, was their way of identifying the storm that visited them. For succeeding storms occurring around the same date and related to a patron saint whose name had been previously used, a Roman numeral was annexed to distinguish one from the other; e.g. Felipe (Philippe), Felipe II, Felipe III, Felipe IV and so forth. However, this system could not be universally adopted, since not everyone was Catholic.
In another part of the world, around 1887, an Australian weather forecaster by the name of Clement L. Wragge had a list of political figures whom he disliked. He used their names to identify a storm being tracked down. Hence, the politician’s name was annexed to a weather disturbance’s descriptions like “wandering aimlessly about (the Pacific)" or “is causing great distress". Wragge’s list however, was not long enough to sustain all the weather disturbances that came around.
Another interesting method of naming tropical storms-hurricanes, was the use of female names to identify and track down storms during World War II. US military weather forecasters used their wives’ or girlfriends’ names, perhaps out of affection or otherwise. In later years, however, the women’s liberation movement added this method of name selection for storms among their protest agenda, as a sexist concept. Women libbers wanted to eradicate the general idea that certain storm traits or characteristics were exclusively attributable to females. These protests were made years after the UN had established the World Meteorological Organization (WMO),and by 1900, the WMO Hurricane Committee subsequently added male names to the pre-determined lists assigned to hurricanes.
Since 1951, the WMO has acted as a specialized agency to handle international concerns for meteorology, geophysical sciences, and operational hydrology. Through WMO, 189 member countries and U.S. territories are able to facilitate the exchange of data and information in real time or even in near-real-time, particularly those related to weather, climate, or water hazards. The need to maintain a universal nomenclature, as reference for tropical storms and hurricanes, thus became necessary.
WMO Process of Selecting Names for Tropical Storms and Hurricanes
In a separate article, Hurricanes, Cyclones, Tornadoes and Definition and Differences, you’ll learn that a weather disturbance starts as a tropical cyclone. The classification of the tropical cyclone as a hurricane or typhoon will come into focus, once the weather disturbance takes on a definite direction or storm path. Hence, the tropical cyclone becomes a hurricane, typhoon, severe tropical cyclone, severe cyclonic storm or simply, a tropical cyclone when it reaches the respective world climate region’s area of responsibility.
Each region constitutes several affected countries involving five different tropical cyclone classifications, so the WMO established five tropical cyclone working committees per region. These committees are responsible for assigning the international name of the tropical cyclone entering their region. In viewing the corresponding lists currently used by each region, note that each committee had different groupings for their set of pre-determined lists. This is because some world climate regions observe different methods for how the list of international names is applied or used.
Please proceed to the next page for the list of names used by each region and information on how the lists are utilized.
The 5 WMO- World Climate Region Working Committees
WMO-Hurricane Committee for the Atlantic and Eastern North Pacific Region
This region maintains a set of lists where hurricane names chosen for a six-year period are selected; the region reuses or recycles each list every six years. Hence, if the list is from 2010 to 2015, this means that the current list was the list from where hurricane names were chosen in the years 2004 up to 2009, in the same order.
WMO-Typhoon Committee for the Western North Pacific Region
The current list being used in this region was prepared in 2008 and contains five sets of alphabetically listed names. The Typhoon Committee uses these international names according to its listing sequence. If a list has been exhausted, the next list is used. As an example, if the name Bebinca was assigned to a tropical cyclone established as the last typhoon for the year, it follows that the next international name assigned to the first typhoon of the succeeding year will be Rumbia.
WMO-Tropical Cyclone Committee RA I for the Southwest Indian Ocean Region
This regional committee uses a single list and assigns the listed names only to new cyclones that originated from their region. If a tropical cyclone originated from another country, this committee merely retains the originating country’s assigned name for the tropical cyclone, when referring to the weather disturbance.
If this set of existing lists is exhausted, and no new list has replaced it, the regional committee simply re-uses the first name appearing on the list.
WMO-Tropical Cyclone Committee RA IV for the North Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico and the Eastern North Pacific
The committee for this region observes the same methods observed by the Hurricane Committee by reusing or recycling the set of six annual lists every six years. Similarly, the 2010 list was the register used in 2004 and so forth up to 2009 in the same order
WMO-Tropical Cyclone Committee RA V for the South Pacific Ocean and Southeast Indian Ocean Region
This region’s set of lists is used sequentially according to name. The name assigned to the first cyclone of the year, will be the name immediately after the name used for the last cyclone of the previous year. This is the same method used by the Tropical Committee.
Considerations Made by Member Countries when Submitting or Using Names in their Predetermined Lists
- These names are for international references; a member country may have their own register of local names for domestic purposes.
- The tropical cyclone’s name should be easy to recall for purposes of instilling instant awareness via quick referencing methods.
- In case the list contains names of tropical cyclones that resulted in catastrophic consequences involving high rates of mortality and financial losses, the said name is stricken off the list. It is considered no longer appropriate for use. One such example is Katrina, which was assigned to the infamous hurricane wreaking havoc in America in 2005. This is avoids possible confusion and is in deference to those whose lives were affected by the natural calamity.
- The name should not refer to any one person in particular but should be one that is common and familiar to each region.
You can find more lists of tropical cyclone names used in previous years for region-specific areas like the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal at the WMO website, Storm Facts- TC Names. The lists above were presented in order to provide a visual aid on how tropical storms and hurricanes are named.
Reference Materials and Images Credit Section
- World Meteorological Organization (WMO)