Who Comes Up With These Hurricane Names?

(Is there a scientific method behind it, or just totally random?)
Ryan Hanley headshot photo. Written by Ryan Hanley
Ryan Hanley headshot photo.
Written by Ryan Hanley

Ryan Hanley is a public speaker, podcaster and author of the Amazon best-seller, “Content Warfare.” Ryan has over 15 years of insurance expertise.

image of hurricane in the ocean distance

Every time hurricane season comes around, you hear phrases on the news 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? After all, shouldn’t these destructive acts of nature be given names with a little more gusto, like Hulk, or Hellbringer, or Cow-Thrower? Well, hurricane naming has gone through a few twists and turns over the years, but it's actually pretty interesting to know the modern process. 

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 worked well until the understandable public objection in the 1970s. To fix this system, ever 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, a Category 5 is the strongest hurricane level. A total of only 54 hurricanes have attained this status in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Of these, some of the most famous ones include the 1959 Mexico Hurricane, Hurricane Andrew (1992), Hurricane 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.

How to Prepare for A Hurricane

First of all, if you live near a coastal part of the US that's prone to hurricanes and other natural disasters, it's important to talk to your independent insurance agent about the proper coverage to help protect your family, your home, and all of your things. Chances are, when you apply for home insurance in an area close to the coast, your agent will walk you through any coverage included with your homeowners insurance and tell you about any sort of additional coverages you may want to consider.

When you hear the first word of a hurricane coming your way, it's important to come up with a plan. Having a checklist of to-dos to help you prepare is key. If you don't have one, you can always use ours, found here.

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