Ever wondered how tropical storms get their names? Well, naming conventions for storms that develop in the oceans has an interesting and long history to it. Operationally, naming a storm is rather convenient for its identification, for future records, storing data, sharing information and for reducing any mix up or confusion, which may otherwise pop up later.
There are three prominent oceans where storms originate- the Indian Ocean, Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean. Thus these systems are termed as Cyclonic Storms, Typhoons and Hurricanes respectively. Beside these three, there are other locations where these cyclones or storms originate in good numbers, like the Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal, South China Sea and the Gulf of Mexico etc.
For several hundred years hurricanes were being named after saints and later names of women, however the practice of naming hurricanes solely after names of women invited objections and therefore stopped in 1978. In 1979, both male and female names were followed for the storms in north Atlantic, West Indies and Gulf of Mexico. Later on, naming storms by a phonetic alphabet was also followed.
Naming of hurricanes in the Atlantic is done under the aegis of World Meteorological Organisation wherein a list of names for each of six years block is prepared. This list gets recreated every seventh year. The WMO can name 21 storms in one season, however without using vowels. In the event of all 21 names getting exhausted in one season, additional storms get named by Greek phoenetics like Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and so on.
At the discretion of international committee, the future use of any of the storm names may be prohibited on the basis of its exclusive history in terms of damage, intensity, and uniqueness or as otherwise decided by WMO.
For the Western Pacific, (USA) took the responsibility of naming the storms. Till 1979, these storms were named after female names and the naming list was revised to include male names thereafter.
In 1998, WMO assigned the job of naming these storms to Japan Meteorological Agency, in place of the JTWC (Joint Typhoon Warning Center).
Also, since 1963, Philippines decided to start naming the tropical depressions with the names of Filipino women. This continued till 2001 but after that, tropical cyclones in their area of responsibility were named with those of males.
The large scale destruction caused by Odisha cyclone (1999) triggered the issue of naming tropical cyclones developed in the North Indian Ocean. WMO asked each of the eight member countries to submit a list of ten names. India was the last country to submit the list in 2004. Since then the names of the tropical cyclones are assigned from the common list prepared by the member countries.
There are few pockets which are relatively free from storm formation. Storms rarely form in the South Atlantic, Southern Pacific and Mediterranean Sea. No official procedure is observed to name the storms for these regions and therefore they are assigned arbitrary names.
Photo by Washingtonpost.