Irma. Humberto. Imelda. Dorian. Otto.
None of these names are common, yet all of them are associated with recent hurricanes. It makes sense that each tropical storm and hurricane should have their own personal name, to make them as easy as possible to identify. The National Hurricane Center began naming high-caliber storms since the early 1950’s, and the World Meteorological Organization eventually took over the responsibility. They manage a formal system by which each tropical storm and hurricane gets its name. They establish a set list of names for both sides of the United States, separated into the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean for each hurricane season.
Before the National Hurricane System created a system for naming hurricanes, they identified them by using a system of latitude-longitude numbers. This, however, became extremely confusing for people to differentiate between storms. So they began to use a system using a specific phonetic alphabetic – Able, Baker, and Charlie, and so on. In this case, each hurricane season used the same names. But, this obviously became confusing throughout the years with multiple hurricanes using the same name.
So in 1953, the system improvised to using only female names. This is similar to how naval ships and storms usually are given names of women. But, in 1978 the system was revised again to include both gendered names. But how do meteorologists know which names to use?
The World Meteorological Organization has six lists, both with 21 names, for every letter apart from Q, U, X, Y, and Z to be used each year on the Atlantic Ocean side. The Pacific Ocean side also gets its names from six lists (different from the Atlantic lists), using every letter but Q and U. After six years, the naming process starts again. Names stay on these lists unless there is a particularly bad, memorable storm using that name. For example, there won’t be anymore Hurrican Katrinas or Hurricane Hugos. These devasting storm’ names were retired, and will never be replicated. Their letter is replaced each year with a new name.
Hopefully, there won’t be any retired names this year.