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 the 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.
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 below.
|Names used for Atlantic Tropical Storms
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
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 above 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 cause 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 in the right column of this webpage. In addition to retirements there are a few names that were simply changed.
On the 2007 list the names Dean, Felix and Noel will be replaced with Dorian, Femand and Nestor
on the 2013 list.
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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|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 the 1996 hurricane season. It was so destructive that the name "Fran" was retired from use. Satellite image by NASA.
Retired Hurricane Names by Year
|Satellite image of a hurricane named "Frances" as it approaches Florida. Satellite image by NASA.