Why would you call a hurricane Andrew or Katrina? Does in not seem a little asinine to personalise the meteorological monsters that deliver such devastation and misery to the population in many areas of the world? Perhaps it is reasonable to feel that hurricanes should remain impersonal and, because of the inhuman destruction they leave in their wake, be described simply by numbers or codes. Yet in fact there is some sound reasoning behind the naming of hurricanes, as will be revealed in this short history into the naming of hurricanes.
Before 1953, in formal weather discussions about Hurricanes they tended to be referred to by their longitude and latitude location. In 1950, this system was changed to one that used the phonetic alphabet. However, both of these systems could cause confusion to those listening to the weather forecasts and warnings, especially as often there was more than one hurricane in progress at the same time. Particularly if these hurricanes were in close proximity, which can often happen, it would be easy to think that the warnings about one could refer to the other. Thus, in an effort to reduce this risk, it was decided to look for another more appropriate and safer system.
In reality, the using of proper names for hurricanes is not a new idea. Back in the olden days of the eighteenth century, it was common for hurricanes to be named after the Saint of the day it began. Similarly, in the 1920's one particular Australian took to naming hurricanes after people in politics that he disliked, which gave him licence to voice his opinion of the politician at the same time as he was describing the weather. In World War II, pilots chose an even more bizarre method of naming hurricanes, using the names of their wives and girlfriends. History does not record the reaction of these wives and girlfriends, but it might be fair to assume that that some got into a storm about it.
In 1953, it was decided that using proper names was the best way of describing a hurricane and one that would reduce the level of confusion, which could well save lives and property. The system works based on making a list of names coinciding with each letter of the alphabet. The letters Q,U,X,Y and Z are excluded as there are few names that begin with these letters, therefore reducing the size of the list to twenty-one. A list is made for each year covering a six-year period and in the seventh year, the first list or names is reused, thus producing a six-year cycle for the names. The only time this is not followed exactly is if a name has been retired. This only happens if a hurricane has been particularly devastating, in which case out of deference to those who lost lives; a new name is chosen to take its place. If they run out of alphabet names, which would be highly unusual, the remaining hurricanes for that specific year would use the Greek alphabet to personalise them.
Initially, due partially to the chauvinistic attitude that was prevalent at the time, all of the names picked were ladies names. It was not until the politically correct and equality movement was in full momentum that, in 1979, men's names were included as well. This therefore, is how the system of naming hurricanes began in modern times.
In conclusion, and for those of you who are interested, if your name is on the following list, there is a chance that you will find a hurricane named after you in 2008: -
Arthur Bertha Cristobal Dolly Edouard
Fay Gustav Hanna Isidore Josephine
Kyle Lili Marco Nana Omar
Paloma Rene Sally Teddy Vicky