You’re not the only one who may be questioning why storms have human names. Many are confused by the question and left to scratch their heads.
Storms are given names, according to the Met Office, to make it simpler to monitor their development in the media, on social media, and online, as well as to help people be aware of their impact.
Let’s explore the history of storm naming before discussing why storms are given human names.
History of Storm Naming
The practice of giving storms names has existed for centuries, dating back to the 1500s. When a hurricane struck Puerto Rico on October 4, 1526, it was called San Francisco since the day happened to be St. Francis of Assisi’s Catholic feast day. Saints were a common choice back then.
The well-known Clement Wragge is claimed to have been the first meteorologist to formally name storms. He was born in Staffordshire and migrated to Australia, where he first made use of figures from Greek and Roman mythology.
He named several of the cyclones in the southern hemisphere after Australian politicians because of his displeasure with the government of the time for failing to assign him director of a new meteorological office.
The US Air Force Hurricane Office in Miami, Florida, started giving phonetically spelled names to tropical cyclones in the North Atlantic in the late 1940s. These were kept private at the time and only used for internal correspondence. A less anglicized form that is more similar to the one we use today quickly replaced the phonetic alphabet used at the time, causing much confusion among people.
It was agreed to give the storms female names to prevent disagreements. Additionally, since the phonetic alphabet would be used for other military communications, it was believed that utilizing a unique approach to depict weather systems would be less confusing for US Air Force radio broadcasters.
US meteorologists started recognizing that using short, straightforward names efficiently conveyed the possible impacts of significant storms in the early 1950s. The National Hurricane Centre began formally designating tropical cyclones, which was crucial when two or more were occurring simultaneously. Only female names were used for two more decades, but in 1979, male names were also used on occasion.
Why Are Storms Named?
Storms have long been given names because doing so helps increase public awareness by making them simpler to track. After seeing its success in keeping people safe in other nations, the UK weather service officially launched the method in 2014.
The first storm to be assigned a name in the UK was Windstorm Abigail in 2015; since then, many subsequent storms have received names of their own.
While the UK and Ireland have only started naming storms after people in the last ten years, the practice dates back centuries when hurricanes were originally named after saints in the Caribbean.
Tropical storms were given female names from Greek and Roman mythology by British-born meteorologist Clement Wragge at the end of the 19th century. Early in the 20th century, the tradition was abandoned. Still, it was revived in World War II when Air Force and Navy meteorologists started naming storms after their cherished spouses and girlfriends.
The United States formally implemented a storm naming system in 1953. Australia and New Zealand both adopted the same strategy in 1963.
Are Storms Named in Alphabetical Order?
Storms are designated alphabetically because it makes the procedure simpler. The Met Office finds it simpler to follow the A-Z pattern when naming significant weather events because there are an endless number of names to pick from.
The UK weather agency releases an alphabetical list of names for the upcoming storm cycle every September. These names vary between male and female names, focusing on short, simple names to improve public awareness.
Why Are There No Storms Beginning With Q, U, X, Y, Z?
Each year, the National Hurricane Center releases a rotating list of names. The list is renewed every six years.
However, according to the hurricane center, there are not enough “Q” names to add every six years. Thus, all “Q” names have been removed from the list.
For this same reason, there are no “U,” “X,” “Y,” or “Z” names.
Sometimes when some storms cause enough damage, their names are retired. And because there are not enough names starting with these letters to retire, they don’t get added to the list in the first place. Simply said, there aren’t enough names that begin with these letters to account for the rotations and retirement of storm names.
Why Do Some Storm Names Retire?
On the rotating lists, some storm names may never appear more than once. These are names that have previously been given to storms that have killed many people and wreaked extreme havoc.
In honor of the victims of such storms, like Hurricane Katrina in 2005, that name is “retired.” The WMO removes it from their lists and substitutes a new name because they believe it would be insensitive to reinstate names connected to so much devastation and death. It prevents survivors from having to relive their experiences every time they hear the storm’s name again.
Hurricane Harvey destroyed Houston in 2017 and was swiftly followed by Hurricane Irma, which wreaked havoc on Caribbean islands. Later that year, hurricanes Maria and Nate each caused 2,000 fatalities in Puerto Rico and Central America, respectively.
For the 2023 list of storm names, all four of these names have been dropped. Instead, the names “Harold, Idalia, Margot, and Nigel” have taken their places.
With climate change and the rise in storms, it’s understandable why people would be looking to know all there is about storms, starting with the most obvious: why are storms named after people?
We hope this article helped you understand everything there is to know about storm naming, including its history, why they’re named alphabetically, and why some retire.