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How do hurricanes get their names?
Answered by Discovery Channel
  • Discovery Channel

    Discovery Channel

  1. What's in a name? Plenty, if you're a tropical storm. Those storms that graduate to hurricanes could end up with their names etched in history, for all of the wrong reasons, if they're violent and lethal enough. Others, of course, could disappear from the news without a whimper as they either break apart before landfall or do very little damage. In either case, naming them isn't as trivial as it sounds: Weather officials name tropical storms and hurricanes in order to classify them, as well as to better report on them to the public. It's not a new phenomenon either. Tropical storms have been given names for hundreds of years; originally, a storm would be named for the Catholic saint upon whose day it made landfall. As time went on, however, the naming patterns began to change.

    Today, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), an agency of the United Nations, is in charge of naming the Atlantic tropical storms that sometimes become hurricanes. The WMO took over for the National Hurricane Center, which had named storms since 1953. The organization uses a yearly, fixed list of names arranged alphabetically (omitting the letters Q, U, X, Y and Z) for a given year, such that, for example, the first Atlantic tropical storm of 2011 was named Arlene, the next was Bret and so on. Successive storms for a year simply go down the list of names. There are six years of lists in place, and each list is reused every six years (the 2011 list will be used again in 2017).

    Interestingly, while each yearly list of names is reused every six years, a name can be replaced on a list if it was used for a storm that was particularly deadly, costly and generally devastating. For example, just try to find the name Katrina on the list -- you won't. If new names are needed, the WMO chooses them during an annual meeting [source: NOAA].

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