A closer look at the names behind hurricanes

This year’s first named hurricane will be Andrea, followed by Barry and Chantal.

Since 1953, Atlantic tropical storms with sustained wind speed of 39 miles per hour have been named by the National Hurricane Centre in the United States. At the time, and until a new naming convention was introduced in 1979, all tropical storms had female names.

Prior to that, storms were named with the longitude and latitude of where they originated, but naming them after people’s names was deemed to be less confusing.

The World Meteorological Organisation maintains and updates the names of storms.

Storm names are repeated every six years, but when a storm causes major damage, its name is retired – hence, Cayman won’t be seeing another Hurricane Ivan. A total of 87 names have been retired from the list of hurricane names since 1953.

There are six lists of 21 names, in alphabetical order and alternating between male and female names.

We will also never see a Hurricane Zorro or Tropical Storm Quentin, as the letters Q, U, X, Y and Z are not 
used in the list.

This year’s first storm is given a female name because 2013 is an odd-numbered year and during odd-numbered years, female names are given to odd-numbered storms.

If there are more than 21 storms in a season, additional names are taken from the Greek alphabet, so if this proves to be a particularly active season and if a 22nd storm forms during a hurricane season, it’s named Alpha.

Calling storms after people’s names, however, have long been a tradition in the Caribbean, where for hundreds of years, they were named after the saint on whose day the hurricane occurred. For example, “Hurricane Santa Ana” struck Puerto Rico on 26 July, 1825, and “San Felipe” (the first) and “San Felipe” (the second) hit Puerto Rico on 13 September in both 1876 and 1928.