What’s the name for hurricanes?

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Hurricanes were named differently in the past, but a uniform system was established in the 20th century. The World Meteorological Organization selects names for storms globally, with six lists of men’s and women’s names rotating each year. Storms are named in alphabetical order, with the Greek alphabet used if the list is exhausted. Once a year, a destructive storm’s name is retired. Storms in different regions are called hurricanes, typhoons, or cyclones.

It wasn’t until the last half of the 20th century that the world came up with a system for naming hurricanes. With so many tropical storms, hurricanes, typhoons, and cyclones circling around the world, scientists, the media, and the public need a way to easily distinguish storms. Naming storms using a uniform system fills this need.

In the past, different countries had different methods of naming storms. In the West Indies, for example, people named them after the saint’s day when the hurricane occurred. In the early 20th century, an Australian meteorologist named storms for political figures he disliked.

During World War II, the US military informally named storms in the Pacific and Atlantic for their wives and girlfriends. The United States National Weather Service began using women’s names to designate hurricanes in 1953. For the most part, most countries have named storms for women.

It wasn’t until 1979 that the United States National Weather Service began using names of both genders to designate hurricanes. Today, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is in charge of shortlisting storm names around the globe. For the Atlantic, there are six lists of men’s and women’s names starting with every letter of the alphabet, except for the letters Q, U, and Z. The list rotates each year in a six-year rotation. The WMO, representing more than 120 countries, uses a fairly democratic system of selecting names using nominations and votes on new names.

For Atlantic storms, the names can be French, Spanish or English. They range from unassuming ones like “Bill” to more exotic names like “Paloma”. The Pacific and Atlantic Oceans each have a different set of names.

Storms in the Atlantic or eastern Pacific are called hurricanes, while those in the western North Pacific region and the Philippines are called typhoons. In the South Pacific and Indian Oceans, storms are called cyclones. Storms in areas with Asian populations are given names of Asian origin.

Hurricanes start out as tropical depressions. Once a tropical storm develops, it earns a name off the list. The names are selected in the order of the list, alternating male and female names.
After the list is exhausted, the WMO switches to the Greek alphabet, using Alpha, Beta, and so on. About once a year, there is a storm so destructive that the name is retired and delisted. In 2005, the Katrina name was retired due to the destruction caused by the storm and the negative connotations associated with the name. Nearly 70 names were dropped from the list and replaced with WMO-selected backup names.
In the rare event that a storm moved from one basin to another with a different name list, the name was changed to the new area’s list. In 1989, Cosme was renamed Allison when a system moved from the Northeast Pacific to the Atlantic. Now, a “travelling” storm retains its original identity.

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