Meteorologists are predicting Hurricane Harvey, which could hit Texas in full late Friday night, to be the first major hurricane the United States has experienced in over a decade.
In the midst of preparations and evacuations leading up to Harvey, some names of other infamous storms like Katrina, Sandy and Wilma — names that have become infamous for the magnitude of each storm — come to mind. This begs the question, how do hurricanes and other major storms get their names? Who decides? And, how bad does a storm have to be to receive a name at all?
The practice of naming storms actually began in 1953 with the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) and has since been handed over to the United Nations World Meteorological Organization (WMO) to maintain.
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The practice was originally started to ensure storms could be quickly identified by the public in warnings and alert messages — because names are much easier to remember and less likely to be mistaken than older, longitude-latitude identification methods.
While at first storms were named arbitrarily, the 1900s saw the emergence of the practice of giving storms feminine names. An 1842 Atlantic storm that ripped the mast of a boat named Antje became ‘Antje’s Hurricane.’
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In 1979, the process of alternating between male names and female names was adopted for Atlantic storms, a year after this process was adopted for Pacific storms.
Since 1953 however, Atlantic, tropical storms have been named from lists originated by the NHC, which are now maintained and updated through a strict procedure by an international committee of the WMO.
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According to EarthSky, a tropical storm only receives a name when it demonstrates a rotating, circular pattern and wind speeds of 39 miles per hour.
For Atlantic storms, like Hurricane Harvey, there are six lists used in rotation, meaning that the 2015 list will be used again in 2021, 2016 in 2022, etc. Each list contains names listed alphabetically to correspond with how many storms have happened in one season.
For example, Harvey begins with an ‘H,’ which is the eighth letter of the alphabet, meaning that this storm has been preceded by seven others this season. The next storm in the Atlantic region will be named Hurricane Irma.
Currently, there are ten naming categories, organized by region. These include:
There are, however, exceptions to this rule. If a storm is particularly devastating, that reusing the name would be “inappropriate for reasons of sensitivity,” explained WMO on its website.