Every year the “list” comes out and we scratch our heads, kind of perplexed at the seeming arbitrary and random choice of names. Gaston next to Hermine? Ophelia next to Philippe? Humberto? Ida? How did they come up with those names?
In years passed, there were a variety of ways hurricanes were named. If a storm struck on a “Day of a Saint,” then Santa Ana it was. Simultaneously, NOAA was using longitude and latitude but that was a little confusing to communicate between countries, and created a margin of error. In the 1950s, it was vastly simplified — hurricanes were given proper names from an alphabetical list. Until 1979, the lists only included women’s names until someone woke up and realized men could be stormy too. Now there is a master list of 26 alternating male and female names representing what sounds like a United Nations cocktail party.
While a Debby or a Nestor might sound more like your friendly bank teller than a menacing Category 4 hurricane, it’s at least a name the public can remember. But not just the American public, but all countries in the Atlantic or Pacific basins. In order to find a common ground and familiar monikers when referencing a storm, the World Meteorological Organization based in Geneva accepts names from a variety of nations and compiles a master list. (In other words, the National Hurricane Center doesn’t choose.) Thus the names represent different cultures and languages from French to Spanish to North American. They are meant to be short and create a common handle for all countries affected by storm or hurricane.
But haven’t we heard this list before? Yes. Every six years, the same list is recycled and the names of “offending” storms are removed and replaced. And when the list runs out, there is always the Greek alphabet, as we learned during the “super season” of 2005 that had more storms than there are letters in the alphabet.
According to the Farmer’s Almanac 2016 around 39 percent of hurricanes that hit the United States strike the state of Florida. So, if you want to avoid naming your kid Hugo or some other “offending” name — or simply want to crush the hurricane category in Jeopardy, now you know how a hurricane is named.
Retired names: Agnes, Alicia, Allen, Allison, Andrew, Anita, Audrey, Betsy, Beulah, Bob, Camille, Carla, Carmen Carol, Celia, Cesar, Charley, Cleo, Connie, David, Dean, Dennis, Diane, Donna, Dora, Edna, Elena,Eloise, Erika, Fabian, Felix, Fifi, Flora, Floyd, Fran, Frances, Frederic, Georges, Gilbert, Gloria, Gustav, Hattie, Hazel, Hilda, Hortense, Hugo, Igor, Ike, Inez, Ingrid, Ione, Irene, Iris, Isabel, Isidore, Ivan, Janet, Jeanne, Joan, Joaquin, Juan, Katrina, Keith, Klaus, Lenny, Lili, Luis, Marilyn, Michelle, Mitch, Noel, Opal, Paloma, Rita, Roxanne, Sandy, Stan, Tomas and last, but not least, Wilma.
Storms are named when the reach 34 knots or 39 mph or higher