Cyclones are given human names. And the next one may be named after you.
Harvey, Katrina, Irma, Haiyan, and Wilma. Infamous names of tropical storms, almost villain-like, with their legacies imprinted so deep into our memories that all it takes are a few syllables to recall the horrendous days these storms brought along with them.
Alright, let’s start with the basics. First things first: what are tropical storms and how does one differentiate between cyclones, hurricanes, and typhoons?
Tropical storms are low-pressure centered storms that form in the tropics. Spiral in shape and accompanied by strong winds, hurricanes, typhoons, and cyclones are all essentially the same phenomenon. The difference in the terminology arises based on the locations these storms form. Therefore, the Atlantic and Northeast Pacific use the term hurricane, while the exact calamity gets the name typhoon in the Northwest Pacific and cyclone in the South Pacific and Indian Ocean.
But have you ever wondered how these tropical storms get their names? And strangely, out of everything, why name after humans?
WHY ARE STORMS NAMED IN THE FIRST PLACE?
The process of naming storms is purely to broadcast warning messages as many approved that giving names to storms easily help people remember the tropical storm in a region, avoiding any confusion should two storms occur in two different places at the same time. It also facilitates risk awareness, safety strategies, and reduction methods. With reference to written and spoken communication, short and distinct names are quicker and less prone to error, as compared to numbers and latitude-longitude involved technical terms.
HOW ARE THE NAMES DECIDED?
If you think that a group of people meet for coffee and randomly decide the names based on personal preference, well you’re wrong. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is in charge of naming tropical storms. They keep a list of names, predetermined by the WMO’s cyclone committees, and appropriately assign them to each Tropical Cyclone basin.
However, not all tropical storms get names. Only those that have the tendency to escalate into hurricanes if they cross the threshold of one, three or ten-minute wind speed of more than 63-75 km/h have names assigned to them, in the order of the predetermined list.
The list rotates every six years. This means that the list of names designated for cyclones occurring this year, 2018, will repeat itself in 2024. However, a cyclone that is deadly and costly in nature will not have its name repeated. Instead, another name, decided by WMO, will take its place. For example, the name Katrina retired from the list, after 2005, because the extent of damage Hurricane Katrina caused was too large.
So, what if the number of storms that occur in a season cross twenty-one? In that case, the additional storms take the names of the Greek Alphabets.
IS IT TRUE THAT TROPICAL STORMS ARE NAMED ONLY AFTER WOMEN?
It was. For 26 years, tropical storms took after the names of women, with the practice beginning in the US (1953-1979). The reason given was the similarity in the apparent “behavior” of tropical storms to that of women. Flirting, Teasing and Temperament were adjectives used to compare the two. The decision, however, were not well-received among many, for obvious reasons, and led to protests.
It was only in the mid-1970’s that the female-centered hurricane naming practice started dying, with women breaking into the meteorological field and throwing light on the deep-embedded sexist practice. However, the proposal to include male names met with outrage masked with fear, as people thought attributing male names to cyclones will not stimulate enough caution.
A comment on The Houston Post read, “Would a hurricane with a man’s name convey the same sense of imminent danger as, say, a Hurricane Carla? Chalk it up to the feminine mystique, but it’s doubtful that a National Hurricane Center bulletin that Tropical Storm Al had formed in the Gulf or Hurricane Jake was threatening the Texas Coast would make us run for cover quite as fast.”
Despite the differences in opinion, the year 1978 saw introduction of male names to the list due to extreme pressure from people and groups like National Organization for Women. The first tropical Atlantic storm with a male name was Bob that struck the Gulf of Mexico in July 1979.
The list the World Meteorological Organization now prepares includes both male and female names, alternating between the two. Below are the names for tropical storms that would occur this year.
ALBERTO HELENE OSCAR
BERYL ISAAC PATTY
CHRIS JOYCE RAFAEL
DEBBY KIRK SARA
ERNESTO LESLIE TONY
FLORENCE MICHAEL VALERIE
GORDON NADINE WILLIAM
Did your name make it to the list? Let us know in the comments below.
List of names for the next 6 years: