Friday July 12 2024

Posted by on June 14, 2021
  • Hurricane Odile Sept 14, 2014 approaching Cabo San Lucas
    Hurricane Odile Sept 14, 2014 approaching Cabo San Lucas
  • There have been as many as 5 active tropical cyclones in the Eastern Pacific at one time.
    There have been as many as 5 active tropical cyclones in the Eastern Pacific at one time.
  • It is rare for a tropical cyclone to make it across the Mexican mainland, but if it does it's rewarded with a new name.
    It is rare for a tropical cyclone to make it across the Mexican mainland, but if it does it's rewarded with a new name.

Hurricane Andrew, Hurricane Hugo, Hurricane Camille…and more recently; Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita were all devastating hurricanes that hit the US. Where do these names come from, who picks them out, and why name them at all? It’s all based on tradition. From the time that Europeans started coming to the “New World”, and for centuries after, hurricanes were named for the saint’s day that they made landfall. 

Eastern Pacific
Tropical Cyclone
Names 2021


In 1950, the WMO (World Meteorology Organization) decided to name hurricanes using the Army’s phonetic alphabet. The first storm would be Able, the second Baker, and so on. In 1953 the WMO decided to give women’s names to the storms and to retire the names of significant storms, thus saving their place in infamy. My guess is that somebody had a really bad divorce!! In 1979, feminists convinced the WMO to use men’s names as well, in a boy-girl-boy-girl alternation. (Another bad divorce?) Katrina, by that standard, would have been named St Genesius (for the patron saint of actors) in Florida, and in Louisiana, St. John the Baptist (in memory of his beheading). That would have been confusing, albeit somewhat appropriate.  Latitude and longitude coordinates were tried for a while, but those change constantly as the storm makes its way from Point A to Point B. It was confusing to the meteorologists at the time, it would be confusing to me, and would dumbfound the general public. That was no good. During WW II meteorologists began giving women’s names to large weather systems, and it caught on. 

That’s the start of the system that we use today. Because of the shortage of names beginning with the letters Q, U, and X, names beginning with those letters are not used. Each year a series of names are randomly picked for that year. One set is for the Atlantic basin and another for the EPAC, or Eastern Pacific basin. The names are used, then after six years, they are thrown back into the pot for recycling. Names in the Atlantic and EPAC are not duplicated within this six-year cycle.

The rule used to be that if the tropical storm or hurricane moved into a different basin then it was renamed to whatever name was next on the list for the area. The last time that this occurred was in July 1996 when Atlantic basin Tropical Storm Cesar moved across Central America and was renamed Northeast Pacific basin Tropical Storm Douglas. The last time that a Northeast Pacific system moved into the Atlantic basin was in June 1989 when Cosme became Allison. However, these rules have now changed at the National Hurricane Center and if the system remains a tropical cyclone as it moves across Central America, then it will keep the original name. Only if the tropical cyclone dissipates with just a tropical disturbance remaining, will the hurricane warning center give the system a new name assuming it becomes a tropical cyclone once again in its new basin. Rita is named number seventeen, out of twenty-one possible. 

What do we name the 25th storm of the year? Alpha, yes, Alpha. Should all 24 names be used within a single season, we switch to the Greek alphabet, giving us another 24 names to work with, but that hasn’t happened in recorded history. Only 1992 came close, very close, making it all the way to Zeke! The worst Atlantic storm season on record occurred in 1933. There were 24 storms documented in the Atlantic basin that year, but that was before we had implemented our current system of names.  The worst Eastern Pacific Hurricane Season was 1992 where 24. Hurricane activity is believed to be cyclical, with the cycles lasting for decades. 

The 1960’s through the mid 90’s are thought to be in the “lesser activity” part of the cycle. The past 10 years have seen an increase in both the frequency and severity of storms signaling, say most scientists, that we are entering the “more active” part of the cycle. Some attribute this increased activity to Global Warming. While Global Warming is, and rightly should be, at the forefront of our minds; most meteorologists agree that this increased activity is more influenced by the cyclical factors than a drastic shift in the planet’s climatology.


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