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NOAA > NWS > CPHC > FAQ > Tropical Cyclone Names
Tropical Cyclone Names

1. Why are tropical cyclones named ?

Tropical cyclones are named to provide ease of communication between forecasters and the general public regarding forecasts, watches, and warnings. Since the storms can often last a week or longer and more than one can be occurring in the same basin at the same time, names can reduce the confusion about what storm is being described. According to Dunn and Miller (1960), the first use of a proper name for a tropical cyclone was by an Australian forecaster early in the 20th century. He gave tropical cyclone names "after political figures whom he disliked. By properly naming a hurricane, the weatherman could publicly describe a politician (who perhaps was not too generous with weather-bureau appropriations) as 'causing great distress' or 'wandering aimlessly about the Pacific.'"

During World War II, tropical cyclones were informally given women's names by US Army Air Corp and Navy meteorologists (after their girlfriends or wives) who were monitoring and forecasting tropical cyclones over the Pacific. From 1950 to 1952, tropical cyclones of the North Atlantic Ocean were identified by the phonetic alphabet (Able-Baker-Charlie-etc.), but in 1953 the US Weather Bureau switched to women's names. In 1979, the WMO and the US National Weather Service (NWS) switched to a list of names that also included men's names.

The Northeast Pacific basin tropical cyclones were named using women's names starting in 1959 for storms near Hawaii and in 1960 for the remainder of the Northeast Pacific basin. In 1978, both men's and women's names were utilized.

The Northwest Pacific basin tropical cyclones were given women's names officially starting in 1945 and men's names were also included beginning in 1979. Beginning on 1 January 2000, tropical cyclones in the Northwest Pacific basin are being named from a new and very different list of names. The new names are Asian names and were contributed by all the nations and territories that are members of the WMO Typhoon Committee. These newly selected names have two major differences from the rest of the world's tropical cyclone name rosters. One, the names by and large are not personal names. There are a few men's and women's names, but the majority are names of flowers, animals, birds, trees, or even foods, etc, while some are descriptive adjectives. Secondly, the names will not be allotted in alphabetical order, but are arranged by contributing nation with the countries being alphabetized.

The North Indian Ocean region tropical cyclones are not named.

The Southwest Indian Ocean tropical cyclones were first named during the 1960/1961 season.

The Australian and South Pacific region (east of 90E, south of the equator) started giving women's names to the storms in 1964 and both men's and women's names in 1974/1975.


2. What are the upcoming tropical cyclone names ?

Worldwide Tropical Cyclone Names


3. What names have been retired in the Atlantic and East Pacific basin ?

In the Atlantic basin, tropical cyclone names are "retired" (that is, not to be used again for a new storm) if the storm is deemed to be quite noteworthy because of the damage and/or deaths it caused. This is to prevent confusion with a historically well-known cyclone with a current one in the Atlantic basin.

Although rarer, some East Pacific names have been retired from the list. The climatology of this basin has most hurricanes moving away from the shore, so chances are rare that these storms would adversely affect people necessitating the name be retired.

Retired Storm Names


4. What is the origin of the word hurricane?

"HURRICANE derived from 'Hurican', the Carib god of evil...
alternative spellings: foracan, foracane, furacana,
furacane, furicane,furicano, haracana, harauncana, haraucane,
haroucana, harrycain, hauracane, haurachana, herican, hericane,
hericano, herocane, herricao, herycano, heuricane, hiracano,
hirecano, hurac[s]n, huracano, hurican, hurleblast, hurlecan,
hurlecano, hurlicano, hurrican, hurricano, hyrracano, urycan,
hyrricano, jimmycane, oraucan, uracan, uracano"
From the AMS Glossary of Meteorology

It should be noted that the Carib god 'Hurican' was derived from the Mayan god 'Hurakan', one of their creator gods, who blew his breath across the Chaotic water and brought forth dry land and later destroyed the men of wood with a great storm and flood .


5. What happens to the name of the tropical cyclone if it moves from the Atlantic regions to the Northeast Pacific, or vice versa ?

The rule used to be that if the tropical storm or hurricane moved into a different basin it was renamed to whatever name was next on the list for the area. This last occurred in July 1996 when Atlantic basin Hurricane Cesar moved across Central America and was renamed Northeast Pacific basin Hurricane Douglas. The last time that a Northeast Pacific system moved into the Atlantic basin was in June 1989 when Cosme became Allison.

These rules have now changed and if the system remains a tropical cyclone as it moves across Central America it will keep the original name. Only if the tropical cyclone dissipates with just a tropical disturbance remaining, will the National Hurricane Center give the system a new name assuming it becomes a tropical cyclone once again.


6. What happens if there are more storms than names on the list ?

In the Atlantic and East Pacific, if the list of names is exhausted in a single season, later storms are named with letters of the Greek alphabet: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta,... etc. . So if they ever have a Hurricane Omega you know it's been a busy year. At the present time there is no provision for retiring any of the Greek alphabet names, should one be so terrible as to be excluded.

The Central and West Pacific use perpetual lists of names.


7. How can I nominate a new name for the list?

Since 1978, the United Nations' World Meteorological Organization (WMO), a group representing some 120 different countries, has used pre-determined lists of names for tropical storms for each ocean basin of the world.

When a damage or casualty producing storm like Mitch, Hugo or Andrew strikes, the country most affected by the storm may recommend to the WMO Regional Association that the name be retired. Retiring a name is an act of respect for its victims, and reduces confusion in the insurance, legal or scientific literature. A retired name is replaced with a like-gender name beginning with the same letter. For example, Honduras recommended (1998) the name Mitch be retired and proposed the replacement name, Matthew, for consideration (and vote) by the 25-member countries of RA-IV. Fifty names have been retired since 1972 in the Atlantic basin .

The names used on the list must meet some fundamental criteria. They should be short, and readily understood when broadcast. Further the names must be culturally sensitive and not convey some unintended and potentially inflammatory meaning. Typically, over the historical record, about one storm each year causes so much death and destruction that its name is considered for retirement. This means that in a "normal" year, the odds are about 1 in 8 of requiring a replacement name, given that over the last 57 years (of reliable record) we've averaged slightly over 8 tropical storms and hurricanes per season (actually 8.6).


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