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How Do Hurricanes Get Their Names and Why Are Some Names Retired? Here’s What You Need to Know

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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently released its 2023 hurricane outlook, predicting a near-normal season with five to nine hurricanes in the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico this year.

According to NOAA, this season is expected to begin June 1st and last until November 30th. 

As in previous years, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) issued a list of names for tropical storms using almost every letter of the alphabet. This year, the list totals 21 names.

The names are: Arlene, Bret, Cindy, Don, Emily, Franklin, Gert, Harold, Idalia, Jose, Katia, Lee, Margot, Nigel, Ophelia, Philippe, Rina, Sean, Tammy, Vince, and Whitney.

If we have an active season and run through the entire list of names, a supplemental list will be used.

Ahead of the start of hurricane season, here’s how the storms get their names:

Why Do We Name Hurricanes?

The history of naming hurricanes dates back to the 1800’s, with the earliest evidence of named storms found in Puerto Rico. People on island nation would name storms after the saint of the day from the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar for the day on which the hurricane struck.

For example, there was “Hurricane Santa Ana,” which struck Puerto Rico with brute force on July 26, 1825, and “San Felipe the first” and “San Felipe the second” which hit Puerto Rico on Sept. 13 in both 1876 and 1928, according to NOAA.

Until the early 1950s, U.S. scientists tracked tropical storms and hurricanes by year and the order in which they occurred during that season.

However, they quickly realized that naming storms before they hit land reduced confusion when communicating advisories in cases where multiple storms were swirling in a region at the same time.

In 1951, the U.S. began naming storms, initially using a phonetic alphabet (Able, Baker, Charlie) before changing it to all female names in 1953, according to NOAA.

The practice of naming hurricanes solely after women came to an end in 1978 when men’s and women’s names were included in the Eastern North Pacific storm lists. In 1979, male and female names were included in lists for the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.

How Do Hurricanes Get Their Names?

The National Hurricane Center doesn’t decide the names of tropical storms. That role is the job of the World Meteorological Organization, a special international committee of scientists.

For Atlantic hurricanes, there six lists of 21 names — one for each letter of the alphabet except for letters Q, U, X, Y, or Z due to limited availability — that are used on an annual rotation. The only time that there is a change is if a storm is so deadly or costly that the future use of its name on a different storm would be inappropriate. If that occurs, the committee retires that name and replaces it with another. Hurricanes Andrew, Sandy, Hugo and Ida are all examples of retired storm names.

When the number of named storms in a season exceeds 21, the WMO uses a supplemental list of names beginning at the start of the alphabet with the letter A. This supplemental list is a new change to the system. Until 2021, the organization used Greek letters when the Atlantic ran out of names for the year. However, the committee said the practice was confusing because the letters Zeta, Eta and Theta sounded so similar it caused problems.

The WMO has retired 94 hurricane names in the Atlantic because of a storm’s deadly history and 12 of them started with the letter I. No other letter is even close. National Hurricane Center senior hurricane specialist Daniel Brown, who is on the WMO committee, told the Associated Press the reason is probably because hurricanes get named in alphabetical order and “by the time we get to the I name we’re into the peak hurricane season” and the storms are the type that live longer and are stronger.

What Are the Names of the Hurricanes for 2022?

Alex, Bonnie, Colin, Danielle, Earl, Fiona, Gaston, Hermine, Ian, Julia, Karl, Lisa, Martin, Nicole, Owen, Paula, Richard, Shary, Tobias, Virginie and Walter.

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