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Hurricane Names - How Are Hurricanes Named?


Hurricane named Fran

Hurricane Fran: Satellite image of a hurricane named "Fran." Hurricane Fran was a large, powerful, destructive hurricane that made landfall near Cape Fear, North Carolina on September 5, 1996. Fran was the sixth named storm of the 1996 hurricane season. It was so destructive that the name "Fran" was retired from use. Satellite image by NASA.

Retired in 2016
During 2016, Hurricane Matthew and Hurricane Otto caused significant damages and fatalities. For this reason, the names "Matthew" and "Otto" were retired and will not be used again for tropical storms.
A list of names that have been retired from 1979-2017 can be viewed on this page.


Why are Hurricanes Named?

Hurricanes occur every year, and sometimes two or three hurricanes can be active at the same time. Using names for these storms makes it much easier for meteorologists, researchers, emergency response workers, ship captains and citizens to communicate about specific hurricanes and be clearly understood.

For that reason, the World Meteorological Organization develops a list of names that are assigned in alphabetical order to tropical storms as they are discovered in each hurricane season. Names can be repeated after an interval of six years, but the names of especially severe storms are permanently retired from use.



Names used for Atlantic Tropical Storms
2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022
Arlene Alberto Andrea Arthur Ana Alex
Bret Beryl Barry Bertha Bill Bonnie
Cindy Chris Chantal Cristobal Claudette Colin
Don Debby Dorian Dolly Danny Danielle
Emily Ernesto Erin Edouard Elsa Earl
Franklin Florence Fernand Fay Fred Fiona
Gert Gordon Gabrielle Gonzalo Grace Gaston
Harvey Helene Humberto Hanna Henri Hermine
Irma Isaac Imelda Isaias Ida Ian
Jose Joyce Jerry Josephine Julian Julia
Katia Kirk Karen Kyle Kate Karl
Lee Leslie Lorenzo Laura Larry Lisa
Maria Michael Melissa Marco Mindy Martin
Nate Nadine Nestor Nana Nicholas Nicole
Ophelia Oscar Olga Omar Odette Owen
Philippe Patty Pablo Paulette Peter Paula
Rina Rafael Rebekah Rene Rose Richard
Sean Sara Sebastien Sally Sam Shary
Tammy Tony Tanya Teddy Teresa Tobias
Vince Valerie Van Vicky Victor Virginie
Whitney William Wendy Wilfred Wanda Walter

Recent and Future Hurricane Names

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 their name if they develop into a hurricane. The names used for recent and future Atlantic storms are listed in the table on this page.



Retired Hurricane Names by Year
1979
David
Frederic
1980
Allen
1981 1982
1983
Alicia
1984
1985
Elena
Gloria
1986
1987
1988
Gilbert
Joan
1989
Hugo
1990
Diana
Klaus
1991
Bob
1992
Andrew
1993
1994
1995
Luis
Marilyn
Opal
Roxanne
1996
Cesar
Fran
Hortense
1997
1998
Georges
Mitch
1999
Floyd
Lenny
2000
Keith
2001
Allison
Iris
Michelle
2002
Isidore
Lili
2003
Fabian
Isabel
Juan
2004
Charley
Frances
Ivan
Jeanne
2005
Dennis
Katrina
Rita
Stan
Wilma
2006
2007
Dean
Felix
Noel
2008
Gustav
Ike
Paloma
2009
2010
Igor
Tomas
2011
Irene
2012
Sandy
2013
Ingrid
2014
2015
Erika
Joaquin
2016
Matthew
Otto
2017
 

History of Atlantic Hurricane Names

Names have been given to Atlantic hurricanes for a few hundred years. People living in the Caribbean Islands named storms after the saint of the day from the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar for the day on which the hurricane occurred such as "Hurricane San Felipe." When two hurricanes struck on the same date in different years, the hurricanes would be referred to by names such as "Hurricane San Felipe the first" and "Hurricane San Felipe the second."

In the early days of meteorology in the United States, storms were named with a latitude / longitude designation representing the location where the storm originated. These names were difficult to remember, difficult to communicate and subject to errors. During the Second World War, military meteorologists working in the Pacific began to use women's names for storms. That naming method made communication so easy that in 1953 it was adopted by the National Hurricane Center for use on storms originating in the Atlantic Ocean. Once this practice started, hurricane names quickly became part of 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. Meteorologists for the Atlantic Ocean began using men's names in 1979. 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 were not used). The first tropical storm of the year was given the name beginning with the letter "A," the second with the letter "B" and so on through the alphabet. During even-numbered years, men's names were given to the odd-numbered storms and during odd-numbered years, women's names were given to odd-numbered storms (see the table for recent name lists).

Today, the World Meteorological Organization maintains the lists of Atlantic hurricane names. They have six lists which are reused every six years.

Retired Hurricane Names

The only change that is made to the list of Atlantic hurricane names is the occasional retirement of a name. This is done when a hurricane causes so much death and destruction that reuse of the same name would be insensitive to the people who suffered losses. When that happens the World Meteorological Organization replaces the name. For example, "Katrina" has been retired from the name list and will not be used again.

A list of hurricane names that have been retired since the current name list system was established in 1979 is shown on this webpage. In addition to retirements, there are a few names that were simply changed. For example, on the 2007 list the names Dean, Felix and Noel were replaced with Dorian, Fernand and Nestor for the 2013 list.

hurricane named Frances

Hurricane Frances: Satellite image of a hurricane named "Frances" as it approaches Florida. Satellite image by NASA.

When There Are More Than 21 Named Storms

There are normally fewer than 21 named tropical storms in any calendar year. In the rare years when more than 21 storms are named, the additional storms are given names from the Greek alphabet: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta are used for their names.

Naming Tropical Storms Outside of the Atlantic

Tropical storms occur in the Pacific Ocean, and meteorologists working there have developed naming systems for them. Separate naming systems are maintained for Eastern North Pacific storms, Central North Pacific Storms, Western North Pacific Storms, the Australian Region, Fiji Region, Papua New Guinea Region, Philippine Region, Northern Indian Ocean, and Southwest Indian Ocean. The National Hurricane Center maintains lists of the names used in these areas.



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