How Are Hurricanes Named?

Ryan Hanley | December 17, 2013
image of hurricane in the ocean distance

If you have ever watched an episode of the Hurricane Chasers show, you may have heard phrases like “And look at that, Alberto just took down a house.” You may be wondering: Why did they name this hurricane Alberto? Or Roxanne? Or Rita? Shouldn’t these destructive acts of nature be given names like the Hulk or Hellbringer? Hurricane naming has gone through some twists and turns over the years to get to where we are today.

Hurricane Naming Trivia

Hurricanes in the Atlantic were originally named after the Catholic saint being honored on the day of the storm. For example hurricane Santa Ana, which hit Puerto Rico on July 26, 1825, was named after Saint Anne.

In the early days of meteorology in the U.S., scientists adopted a method of using the longitudes and latitudes of the hurricane to come up with a name. However, the scientific hurricane naming method was too confusing for the public.

The military took its turn naming hurricanes between the 1930s and 1950s. Their method was to give every storm numbers. The first major storm of the year was simply called Hurricane Number 1. These names proved difficult to track and remember, and later they switched to naming storms in alphabetical order.

Beginning in 1953, NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association) took on the hurricane naming task, and began giving hurricanes women’s names. This went well until public objection in the 1970s. Since 1979, big storms names have alternated between men's and women's names.

Who Names Hurricanes and Tropical Storms?

Currently, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is responsible for naming major storms all over the world. The WMO has name lists and assigns them to storms, in order, as they occur in the six weather regions of the world. Six hurricane name lists are rotated every six years, which means that over time more than one storm can have the same name. The lists consist of 21 names in alphabetical order in several languages including English, Dutch, French and Spanish. A storm name may be retired from a list and replaced when a storm causes so much damage that the WMO deems it would be inappropriate to use the name again.

When Does a Hurricane Get Its Name?

Not only have hurricane names been a controversial topic over the years, but the timing of the name can cause heads to spin too. Here are some interesting facts:

  • A hurricane or tropical storm gets its name once it begins rotating counter-clockwise at a wind speed of 39 miles per hour, or 63 kilometers per hour.
  • At that time it is assigned the next name on the list for its weather region.
  • From an insurance perspective, you need to have protection against hurricanes before the storm gets its name for any damages from the storm to be covered.

You may be interested to know that hurricane coverage is often included in your homeowners policy; however, if the primary damage is from floods related to the storm, you must have flood insurance to get any coverage for lost or destroyed items.

Names of the Largest Hurricanes in Recorded History

According to the Saffir-Simpson scale, category 5 is the strongest hurricane level. A total of only 49 hurricanes have attained this status in the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean. Of these, some of the most famous ones include the 1959 Mexico Hurricane, Andrew (1992), Gilbert (1988), the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 and Hurricane Janet (1955).

The largest hurricane ever to hit U.S. shores was Superstorm Sandy in October, 2012. Sandy reached 1,000 miles in diameter, brought 100 mph winds and severe storm surge floods. But interestingly enough, it was only considered a category 1 storm. While it wasn’t the worst storm in terms of speed or wind force, it was the biggest in terms of size. It also caused billions of dollars in damage to homes and businesses up and down the Atlantic coast. Needless to say, the name has been retired.

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