Irma, Jose or Maria could be the names of some soap opera characters but are in fact names of particularly strong and destructive storms this year, as in 2005 was the infamous Katrina or Sandy in 2012. But, who names hurricanes?
The Atlantic Storm list was originally created by the National Hurricane Centre in the 1950s –now managed by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), which decides when names are struck off and replaced. This list of names were designed because names are easier to remember than numbers or technical terms, meaning you’re less likely to make an error if you name a storm, rather than using latitude-longitude identification methods, and can reduces confusion when two or more tropical storms occur at the same time.
The names of hurricanes certainly don’t reflect a storm’s severity, and they alternate genders from one to the next. For many years hurricanes and other tropical storms bore only girls’ names but in 1979 the WMO switched to a list of names that also included men’s names. The current list of names recycles every six years, unless the name is retired. However a 2014 study found that hurricanes named after women have happened to be deadlier than the ones named after men.
The official list is now regularly updated and maintained by the WMO, covering not only the Atlantic/Caribbean sector, but all tropical cyclone areas. For the Atlantic sector six lists are used in rotation. Thus, the 2017 list will be used again in 2023.
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