Naming the storm

Tropical Storm Chris and Hurricane Beryl from 2018 both formed around the same time, making it very important to track them by name them rather than tracking them by the date storms formed. (Photo from Flickr)

In North America, we identify hurricanes through different names to ease communication and confusion. However, until 1953 we tracked hurricanes by year and the order in which they occurred during the year. 

“The use of tracking storms by year and order caused mass confusion,” said Wes Hohenstein, Chief  Meteorologist at CBS 17 News. Confusion and rumors happened when storm advisories from radio stations were mistaken for warnings concerning an entirely different storm located hundreds of miles away.

The United States began using female names for storms and, since 1978, has used both male and female names to identify Northern Pacific storms. In 1979, storms in the Atlantic basin picked up the practice of naming.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Hurricane Center does not control the naming of tropical storms. Instead, the World Meteorological Organization established the procedure. 

“Atlantic hurricanes are named using six lists of male and female names, and each list is on a six-year rotation,” said Hohenstein. The names start with each letter of the alphabet excluding Q, U, X, Y, and Z, because there are few common names starting with them. “If we have more than twenty-one named tropical cyclones occur in a season, any additional storms take names from the Greek alphabet,” said Hohenstein. 

The only time that there is a change to the naming list is if a storm is so deadly or costly that the future use of its name on a different storm would be inappropriate. Removed, or retired, names include storms like Katrina, Sandy, and more recently Florence. With that in mind, many people expect Dorian to soon join the ranks of retired names.


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