Growing up in the Midwest, we never had to worry about hurricanes but that didn’t stop my mom from forcing me to watch the news coverage of incoming tropical storms. I particularly remember watching the coverage of Hurricane Katrina (I was eight years old at the time) because as she said, “this is history.” My mom wasn’t wrong, because we still remember Hurricane Katrina as one of the worst hurricanes in U.S. history. If you’re like me then you’ve probably wondered who names the hurricanes and why haven’t we had another hurricane named “Katrina.”
In the 1950s, weather forecasters learned that if hurricanes had names instead of just being identified by latitude-longitude numbers then it would be easier for people to communicate effectively about the incoming storms and as a result stay safer.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center first began formally naming hurricane that developed in the Atlantic Basin the 1950s. The original method including naming storms through the phonetic alphabet with names like Able, Baker, and so on. These names were then repeated for each hurricane season.
In 1952, the naming system was revised to avoid confusion and hurricanes began being named after women. The process was once again changed in 1979 to include both male and female names and is what we currently use today.
Today, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is in control of the hurricane name lists.
Meteorologists switch between names from six lists provided by the WMO that are recycled and reused every six years. These lists are only changed when a hurricane name is retired. According to the WMO, a name is retired when the hurricane is so deadly or destructive that it would be insensitive to keep using it. Some retired names include Andrew, Katrina, Rita, Ike, Sandy, Maria and Harvey.
Here are the names for the 2020 season:
Another fun fact is that you will never see a hurricane name starting with Q, U, X, Y or Z because it is too difficult to find names beginning with those letters.
And yes, even though my mom and I live almost 2,000 miles apart now, we’re still following Hurricane Laura together.