Who Names Hurricanes?

Find out who names hurricanes in this brief history of the hurricane naming process.

Hurricane names are chosen each year by the World Meteorological Organization. When a hurricane is particularly destructive, the name of that hurricane is permanently retired and another is chosen to take its place.

This naming system was begun by forecasters in 1950 and by 1953 the alphabetic name system was in place. But it was not until 1979 that hurricanes acquired male names as well as Spanish and French names. The difference between a tropical storm and a hurricane is wind speed: a tropical storm (winds up to 39 mph) becomes a hurricane when the strength of the winds reach 75 mph.

The beginning of the year sees three lists: one is for the Atlantic Basin, one is for the central Pacific storm sector, and one is for the eastern Pacific area. There are six permanent lists for each sector and, at the end of the sixth year, the first list of names begins again. If any names need to be retired, this is when their replacemnt will be chosen by the WMO.

The lists run alphabetically from A to W, with the letters Q, U, X, Y, and Z excluded because it is dificult for a wide variety of name rotations with those letters over a six year period. My own name appeared on the 1999 hurricane list but I will be seeing it again in 2005 because it was a relatively minor storm. Therefore, during a sixty year lifespan, a human with one of the names on the hurricane list is likely to see his or her name a full ten times during the course of life due to the WMO name rotation.

Hurricanes, just like people, are given names so that they may be easily tracked. Some of the retired hurricane names are Agnes, Alicia, Allen, Betsy, Beulah, Carla, David, Frederic, Hugo, and Roxanne.

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