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Who Picks the Hurricane Names?


Sep. 3 2019, Updated 7:48 p.m. ET

With hurricane Dorian taking up much earned media coverage, I couldn’t help but ponder: how do they pick these names? This is something I’ve been curious about nearly every hurricane season. Who decides a storm’s name? How are they chosen? When are they chosen? Why is my name never in the running? It turns out, it is way more simple than we think. 

Basically, the World Meteorological Organization has an already-made index of co-ed names listed in phonetic order. Each list has a name for every letter of the alphabet without Q, U, X, Y, or Z. Therefore, the list is composed of 21 names and there are six different lists for six hurricane seasons. The gender for the names alternate both alphabetically and by the season. If it is a particularly rough hurricane season and there are more tropical Atlantic storms than names ready for that particular season, they will use Greek letters for the extras. 

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photo credit: CNBC.com

If the organization decides to retire names due to the severity of the storms, they will decide on new ones to replace them with. For example, Sandy, Katrina, Ike, and Andrew have all been retired names and therefore replaced on their specific lists. In 2017, there were four hurricane names retired from that specific list including Harvey, Irma, Maria, and Nate. 

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The whole naming system began in 1953. Prior, Atlantic storms were categorized by the year and order of occurrence. This got to be too confusing for the press and meteorologists to differentiate, especially when two storms were occurring at once. So, in ‘53, they began using female names. But like nearly everything from the 1950’s, a female-only storm naming system was a little sexist. In 1978, the storms were given male names, and then in 1979, they created the co-ed name data-base.


photo credit: the National Hurricane Center and Central Pacific Hurricane Center

Lucky for us, the National Hurricane Center and Central Pacific Hurricane Center makes the most updated lists available. Though, Dorian will probably be retired. Any country that has suffered due to a specific storm, such as the Bahamas and Abaco Islands during Dorian, may request that the name be retired.

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