Everything you ever wanted to know about hurricane names

Tracking the Tropics

Hugo. Dorian. Laura. Hurricanes have had names, some now infamous, for as long as we can remember- but that wasn’t always the case.

From the 18th to the first half of the 20th century, storms were named after places, after feast days of saints, and sometimes vague objects. Take for example the Rising Sun hurricane of 1700, which slammed into Charleston harbor- so named for a Scottish warship that was stuck nearby. 

Flash forward to the 1940s where Navy meteorologists started naming storms after their wives, mothers, and girlfriends. This female-forward nomenclature became standard in 1953 as the World Meteorological Organization started naming tropical storms and hurricanes solely after women. Male names were added to the list nearly a quarter-century later.

This system is the one we use today with six lists of 21 names, alternating between male and female, A to Z, excluding Q, U, X, Y, and Z. Every 7 years a list of names is repeated, with some exceptions. Several names carry too much weight to be used again and are retired from future use. There will never be another Hugo. Another Katrina. Another Sandy. Nearly 90 names have been retired as their destruction to life & property was too great. Every couple of years, the World Meteorological Organization decides which (if any) names from a season will be retired. Once a name is retired, it is replaced by another name. For example, Humberto took Hugo’s place.

Which brings me to an often asked question: why the odd names and pronunciations? The names are chosen by the World Meteorological Organization, not the National Hurricane Center, to include French, Spanish, and English proper names and pronunciations- which leads to such tongue-twisters as Isaias, the Spanish form of Isaiah.

Finally, in light of our extremely active season, you might wonder what happens if we run out of names? If more tropical systems continue after W, the Greek alphabet will be used: Alpha to Omega. Most recently this happened in 2005, the most active season in recorded history with 27 named storms. 

Want to see if your name could be used? Here is the list of names the NHC will use into 2025, which will then repeat, minus any retired names.

Storm Team 2 Meteorologist David Dickson

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