Have you ever wondered why tropical storms and hurricanes are given names? It’s not to make these disastrous storms seem friendlier, that’s for sure!
Prior to the 1950s, meteorologists kept track of hurricanes and tropical storms by the year and the storms’ order for that year. So, for instance, the fifth tropical storm of 1938 was referred to as just that — the “fifth tropical storm of 1938” or “Storm 5.” Tropical storms and hurricanes that did a lot of damage received unofficial names — like the 1926 Great Miami Hurricane, which did so much damage that the Miami government implemented the first known building code in the United States.
During the 1950s, meteorologists realized that it was difficult to keep track of unnamed storms — particularly if there was more than one storm happening at any given time. By 1953, meteorologists around the United States were using names for tropical storms and cyclones. In those days, the storm names were all female. Both male and female names were used for Northern Pacific storms in 1978, and by 1979, male and female names were being used for Atlantic storms, too.
The World Meteorological Organization is responsible for developing the names for both Northern Pacific and Atlantic storms. We use six set lists that alternate between male and female names, listed alphabetically and in chronological order starting with A and omitting Q and U, X, Y, and Z. If more than 21 names are required during a season, the Greek alphabet is used. Every six years, the names cycle back around and get reused. If a hurricane does tremendous damage (i.e., Katrina, Sandy), the name is retired and replaced by a different name beginning with the same letter.
For 2016, the Atlantic tropical storm and hurricane names are:
• Alex • Bonnie • Colin • Danielle • Earl • Fiona • Gaston • Hermine • Ian • Julia • Karl • Lisa • Matthew • Nicole • Otto • Paula • Richard • Shary • Tobias • Virginie • Walter
The 2016 Eastern North Pacific storm names are as follows:
• Agatha • Blas • Celia • Darby • Estelle • Frank • Georgette • Howard • Ivette • Javier • Kay • Lester • Madeline • Newton • Orlene • Paine • Roslyn • Seymour • Tina • Virgil • Winifred • Xavier • Yolanda • Zeke
So when will these names go into use? The Eastern North Pacific hurricane season officially starts on May 15 each year, while the Atlantic “season” starts on June 1. Both seasons officially end on November 30, although these storms can happen at any time.