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Caught in Hurricane Aaron

Naming Hurricanes

About Hurricanes

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  Caught in Hurricane Aaron

Naming Hurricanes

Hurricanes come in large and small sizes; some have big eyes, and some have squinty eyes. They are born, grow, and then die. It's not surprising, then, that human names have been assigned to hurricanes for centuries. The earliest instance of hurricane naming was in the Caribbean islands, where hurricanes were associated with the Roman Catholic saint's holiday when they hit the islands. For example, Hurricane "Santa Ana" struck Puerto Rico on July 26, 1825.

The first known scientific use of hurricane naming arose in the Pacific during World War II. It was an easy and effective way to distinguish one tropical cyclone from another on the weather maps. The system was simple and alphabetical: the name of the first storm of the season would begin with A; the second, B; the third, C; and so on. Naming hurricanes also gave homesick soldiers a way to recall loved ones. Thus began the practice by predominantly male meteorologists of giving female names to hurricanes. This practice persisted at the National Hurricane Center in Miami until the late 1970s. One retired NHC meteorologist ironically commented, "It is surely only a coincidence that many names of NHC employees, their wives, and other female relatives appear on the [name] list." This may explain the distinctly Southern flavor of the names of past hurricanes. Beginning in 1979, the list of names for each year's tropical storms and hurricanes was broadened to include male and Spanish and French names. The alphabetical naming system continues, now overseen by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The WMO composes different alphabetical lists for different ocean basins (for example, starting in 2000, northwest Pacific typhoons now have Asian names).

The names of severe and/or notable hurricanes are "retired" and taken off the lists. Horror sequels are popular in the movies, but no meteorologist wants to tempt fate by naming a new hurricane Andrew, Georges, or Mitch, to cite a few of the recently retired names.



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