Tropical Storms and Hurricanes: What’s Behind the Names?


    For what does a name hold? Christen a rose any other moniker and it shall still carry its signature sweet scented smell. Those are not my words. Words of wisdom by Juliet Capulet directed to Romeo Montague. Nevertheless, does it  hold true when it comes to hurricane names? Contrary to the aforesaid school of thought, I would opine that a name means everything. In a name, you have meaning, purpose and so much more. Delve deeper into the inspiration behind hurricane names and you shall appreciate that the Capulets of this world must have had an oversight when it comes to their naming.


    Irma, Sandy Or Katrina: Who Fronts These Hurricane Names?

    The World Meteorological Center (WMO) is the body entrusted in drafting names of storms and hurricanes. Depending on the geographical zones names are drawn from a 21 predetermined list arranged in an alphabetical order that is followed sequentially for a given period of time, usually six years. Thereafter the cycle is repeated albeit with certain factors to be considered such as havoc created.


    The history of naming hurricanes stretches back in the 1950’s. A practice established by the United States National Hurricane Center (NHC). In those early years, only females’ names were used till 1979 that masculine names were incorporated into the conventional naming of storms and cyclones.

    As a rule of thumb in the conventional naming of storms, no particular hurricane of the storm is named after a specific individual. Names are rather picked based on the names easily identified by the natives of the region bearing the brunt of the storm or hurricane. That partly explains the rationale behind the omission of names that begins with letters Q, U, X, Y and Z. they are hard to come by!

    What Does A Name Harbor? Everything!

    Hurricanes are giant, spiraling tropical storms that are capable of substantial destruction. Originally, storms were named by a system of latitude-longitude numbers. That can be a mouthful for the masses to comprehend.

    Names are however easier to remember and identify with. Hurricanes carry a potential life hazard and risks and its therefore common knowledge for the disaster management entities to craft messages that easily resonate with the masses for quick uptake through the media. Human names are memorable and help people to prepare for an impending danger.  They make communication on any storm information easy between hundreds of widely scattered stations, coastal bases and ship actions.

    Moniker Letter Effect

    A hurricane season is an emotional period. A name that makes people strongly identify with it makes it even more sentimental. Names make hurricanes command our attention. These names have certainly unlocked the innate compassion we have for our fellow human beings.

    Studies conducted in Department of Psychology, University of Michigan published under the title: “In the “I” of the storm: Shared initials increase disaster donations.” Summarizes the findings of the name letter effect that inadvertently comes with christening hurricanes with names that we can associate with.


    Wind Speeds Setting the Stage for Storm Naming

    The revolving wind speed is the yardstick used to determine whether a storm qualifies to be identified by a name.  For tropical storm, the benchmark is at 39 miles per hour. A tropical storm that increases wind speeds to levels above 74 miles per hour is upgraded and classified as Hurricanes.

    Using the Saffir – Simpson scale hurricane wind speeds are used to predict the impending damage posed by any given hurricane.  The scales are rated from one to five points. Point three to five being considered major hurricanes due to their heightened risk of property and life losses. Point one and two though not considered as major hurricanes but still attract an abundance of caution by the public.

    Cases of Name Changing

    Talk of opening a wound that had already healed, some storms are just so deadly and costly that reusing their names becomes a classical example of opening healing wounds. In such a scenario, the names are replaced with a different name of a similar first letter of the corresponding alphabet that was discarded.

    Quite a number of hurricane names have been retired for the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico. The idea of retiring names started in 1954. The most recent causality was hurricane Otto in 2016 being replaced with Ophelia.

    The fate of the name Irma is yet to be determined. However, early signs of the extensive damage and the unprecedented wind speeds never witnessed before in the Atlantic Ocean all points to towards the retirement of the moniker.

    In conclusion, hurricanes are given names for ease of communication purposes. The naming of storms in different ocean basins is a responsibility entrusted upon the World Meteorological Organization. And oh, there is more to name contrary to what Juliet Capulet wanted you to believe!