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Subject: B1) How are tropical cyclones named?

Contributed by Chris Landsea

For listings of the current names being used see B2.

Tropical cyclones are named to provide ease of communication between forecasters and the general public regarding forecasts, watches, and warnings. Since the storms can often last a week or longer and that more than one can be occurring in the same basin at the same time, names can reduce the confusion about what storm is being described. According to Dunn and Miller (1960), the first use of a proper name for a tropical cyclone was by Clement Wragge, an Australian forecaster late in the 19th century. He first designated tropical cyclones by the letters of various alphabets, then started using South Sea Island girls' names. When the new Australian government failed to create a federal weather bureau and appoint him director, he to took to naming cyclones "after political figures whom he disliked. By properly naming a hurricane, the weatherman could publicly describe a politician (who perhaps was not too generous with weather-bureau appropriations) as 'causing great distress' or 'wandering aimlessly about the Pacific.'".

Although Wragge's naming practice lapsed when his Queensland weather bureau closed, fourty years later the idea inspired author George Stewart. In his 1941 novel "Storm", a junior meteorologist named Pacific extratropical storms after former girlfriends. The novel was widely read, especially by US Army Air Corp and Navy meteorologists during World War II. When Reid Bryson, E.B. Buxton, and Bill Plumley were assigned to Saipan in 1943 to forecast tropical cyclones they decided to name them (à la Stewart) after their wives. In 1945, the armed services publicly adopted a list of women's names for typhoons of the western Pacific.

From 1950 to 1952, tropical cyclones of the North Atlantic Ocean were identified by the phonetic alphabet (Able-Baker-Charlie-etc.), but in 1953 the US Weather Bureau switched to women's names after the Armed Services' practice. In 1979, under political pressure, the US National Weather Service (NWS) requested that the WMO's Region IV Hurricane Committee switch to a hurricane name list that alternated men's and women's names.

The Northeast Pacific basin tropical cyclones were named using women's names starting in 1959 for storms near Hawaii and in 1960 for the remainder of the Northeast Pacific basin. In 1978, both men's and women's names were utilized.

The Northwest Pacific basin tropical cyclones were given women's names officially starting in 1945 and men's names were also included beginning in 1979. As of 1 January 2000, tropical cyclones in the Northwest Pacific basin are now being named from a new and very different list of names. The new names are Asian names and were contributed by all the nations and territories that are members of the WMO's Typhoon Committee. These newly selected names have two major differences from the rest of the world's tropical cyclone name rosters.

  1. The names by and large are not personal names. There are a few men's and women's names, but the majority are names of flowers, animals, birds, trees, or even foods, etc, while some are descriptive adjectives.

  2. The names will not be allotted in alphabetical order, but are arranged by contributing nation with the countries being alphabetized.

The North Indian Ocean region tropical cyclones are named as of 2006. The Southwest Indian Ocean tropical cyclones were first named during the 1960/1961 season.

The Australian and South Pacific region (east of 90E, south of the equator) started giving women's names to the storms in 1964 and both men's and women's names in 1974/1975.

Last revised May 23, 2013

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