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How Hurricanes Get Their Names

A meteorologist in Australia at the end of the 1800s called particularly vicious hurricanes after politicians he hated. The tradition in the Caribbean had been to name storms after the saints' days on which they struck. Thus, the hurricane that hit Puerto Rico on September 13, 1928 was called Hurricane San Felipe because it landed on San Felipe's Day. In the early days of meteorology in the United States, storms were named with a latitude and longitude designation representing the location where the storm originated. Not surprisingly, these names were difficult to remember, difficult to communicate and subject to errors. During the Second World War, U.S. Navy and Army Air Force forecasters in the Pacific, who needed to convey detailed information succinctly to far-flung troops, christened storms after their wives and sweethearts. Back home, the U.S. Weather Bureau adopted a new strategy in 1950. Storms would be titled using the Army/Navy phonetic alphabet in use at that time: Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog, Easy, Fox, George, and so on. But in 1953, the bureau began using female names. Bestowing names on hurricanes eased communication and eliminated confusion and errors, so it was adopted by the National Hurricane Center in 1953 for use on storms originating in the Atlantic Ocean. Once this practice started, hurricane names quickly became part of the common language and public awareness of hurricanes increased dramatically. In 1978, meteorologists watching storms in the eastern North Pacific began using men's names for half of the storms. In 1979, in an effort to bring gender equality to the process, the National Weather Service began alternating male and female names for the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico.

For each year, a list of 21 names, each starting with a different letter of the alphabet was developed and arranged in alphabetical order. Names beginning with the letters Q, U, X, Y and Z are not used, because too few names begin with those letters. The names are chosen from a list selected by the World Meteorological Organization. The Atlantic is assigned six lists of names and, every sixth year, the first list begins again. The first tropical storm of the year is given the name starting with the letter "A", the second with the letter "B" and so on through the alphabet. During even-numbered years, men's names are given to the odd-numbered storms; during odd-numbered years, women's names are given to even-numbered storms. In the Atlantic Ocean, tropical storms that reach a sustained wind speed of 39 miles per hour are given a name, such as "Tropical Storm Fran." If the storm reaches a sustained wind speed of 74 miles per hour, it is called a hurricane - such as "Hurricane Fran." So, hurricanes are not given names; tropical storms are given names, and they retain that name if they develop into a hurricane.

Often when an unusually destructive hurricane hits, that hurricane's name is retired and never used again out of sensitivity to the victims. Since 1954, forty names have been retired. That means there will never be another Hurricane Andrew, Camille, Hugo, or Katrina.

Names on tap for 2010 Atlantic tropical storms are: Alex ... Bonnie ... Colin ... Danielle ... Earl ... Fiona ... Gaston ... Hermine ... Igor ... Julia ... Karl ... Lisa ...Matthew ... Nicole ... Otto ... Paula ... Richard ... Shary ... Tomas ... Virginie ... Walter. They will not be used again until 2016. We hope you're not visited by any one of them!

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