How Hurricanes are Named and Why

This has been the busiest Atlantic hurricane season recorded, and we've already run out of names. This begs the questions, how exactly do hurricanes get their names and why do we bother naming them?

This year has been the most active Atlantic hurricane season recorded. And we’ve already run out of names for these storms. The National Hurricane Center has only ever run out of human names twice, and it has many be asking how exactly hurricanes get their names.


When are storms named?

You may have noticed that not all storms are named. A tropical cyclone, which is a generic name for a rotating storm, graduates from a tropical depression to a tropical storm when it sustained maximum winds of 39 miles per hour. It’s only once it officially becomes a tropical storm that it is assigned a name.


Contrary to what many people believe, hurricanes are not given names. Tropical storms are named, and they retain their name if they develop into a hurricane.


When did we start naming storms?

Naming storms is actually not that new. It’s been done in the Atlantic for a few hundred years. People in the Caribbean used to name storms after the saint of the day from the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar. Officially, the U.S. first began using female names for storms in 1953, and by 1978 both female and male males were used to identify Northern Pacific storms. This was later adopted for storms in the Atlantic in 1979.


Who names the storms?

The storms are named by the World Meteorological Organization, which develops the list of names that are assigned in alphabetical order, rotating between male and female names. Names can be repeated after six years, but if a storm is particularly severe, such as Hurricane Katrina, it will be permanently retired from use.


Why do we name storms?

The reason we name storms is quite simple- it’s easier to communicate information about them. There are often multiple storms at the same time, so it can get quite confusing to pass on the correct information if they don’t have distinctive names. Giving a name to a storm also helps make them feel more immediate and makes a difference in the way people prepare for them.


“In general, humans care about other humans, so when we humanize something inanimate, it makes us care about the thing more,” says Adam Waytz, a professor at Northwestern University and author of the book The Power of Human. “Naming things can make them more memorable, easier to recall, and certainly it makes things feel more fluent or easy to process.”


What names are used for storms?

Storms are given human names starting with each letter of the English alphabet, from A to Z. These names alternate between male and female names. If there are more than 21 named storms, like there is this year, they are then named after the Greek alphabet, beginning with Alpha and ending with Omega.