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How Do Hurricanes Get Their Names?

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With the potential development of the season’s first named tropical system in the Atlantic basin this week, you might be wondering how and why tropical storms and hurricanes get their names.

Since 1953, the United States has been naming tropical systems to better communicate to the public the threat for tropical systems, and names help in that process by linking a simple, mainstream name to a tropical cyclone. The naming process has proven wildly successful, with the media and public almost exclusively referring to tropical systems by their designated name – as opposed to indiscriminate nicknames (such as the 1938 “Long Island Express” or the 1935 “Labor Day Hurricane”) and latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates as was done before the formal naming system was developed in the early 50s.

Contrary to what some might think, the National Hurricane Center (NHC), the U.S. government’s official tropical storm prediction body tasked with identifying tropical storms and hurricanes in the Atlantic, is not responsible for the naming of tropical systems. Instead, that task falls on the shoulders of an international branch of the World Meteorological Organization – the meteorological branch of the United Nations headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland.

First and foremost, names are developed in alphabetical order as the storms develop – starting with the first storm of the season beginning with the letter “A” and subsequently running through the alphabet in order. If there should be a especially active season, such as what happened in 2005, the Greek alphabet comes into play. Names are recycled every six years unless a deadly or historic system develops, in which case that storm’s name is retired, such as Katrina in 2005 or Sandy in 2012.

There is no formal way the names are derived – no, they aren’t named after meteorologists’ significant others – other than to find the name the viewing public will have the simplest time saying and recognizing. Because the Atlantic basin also includes several Spanish and even French-speaking countries in Central America, sometimes Spanish names such as Joaquin or Georges will also appear, despite a storm possibly impacting a primarily English-speaking area such as the United States or the Bahamas.

Be sure to stay with WeatherNation and www.WeatherNationTV.com through the tropical season, which formally runs from June 1st through November 30th in the north Atlantic basin.

Meteorologist Chris Bianchi

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