When we sat down to put together The Weather Issue we thought someone should not go through an entire publication fully dedicated to weather and not learn how to have a giant storm named after them. That could have been the worst thing to happen in the issue.
Make that the second worst thing. Being struck by lightning or carried away into the abyss by a flood while reading it could qualify as worse, but obviously missing out on how to name a storm would run a close second. Thankfully, before we went to print, we ran into a nine-year-old who, very politely we might add, asked how hurricanes are named and if one could be named after them. True story. We looked at the child suspiciously and explained that humans don’t walk around wondering how to have a hurricane named after them and she replied, “Well, they probably would like to know how.” At that moment we lifted the child in the air like the little golden Buddha miracle that they are and spun them around until we both almost blacked out. Then we ran to the top of a lighthouse with our typewriter and a handful of research papers to complete this feature. Okay, the end of that story gets a little blurry on the exact details but it was a good idea the kid had and we’re happy to elaborate on the idea here.
But we can’t just give away the origin and method to actually name a hurricane. What fun would that be? So we have gathered a list of tales of how hurricanes are named and how to get involved. Only one of the following is actually correct. It is up to you (and likely the nine-year-old if they are reading this) to guess the true method for naming a hurricane and go forth and spread the word.
Write us at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know which is the correct answer and we will petition the Whalebone Hurricane Naming Committee to name one after you.
Couple of things to know before you get started:
- A mature tropical cyclone is called a hurricane in the Atlantic and eastern Pacific oceans. What’s known as a hurricane in the Atlantic is called a typhoon near Asia and simply a cyclone everywhere else in the world. Ooh, la la.
- Cyclones have a central circulation. Counter-clockwise in the northern hemisphere, clockwise south of the equator. Do not read that again or you will go cross-eyed.
- To be a hurricane a storm must have maximum sustained winds that exceed 74 mph. Floridians hate that stat.
- An average hurricane can travel about 300 to 400 miles a day, or about 3,000 miles before it dies out. In it for the long haul.
- The eye of a hurricane can be anywhere from 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) in diameter to over 200 miles (320 kilometers) but they are usually around 30 miles (48 kilometers). For scale: 30 miles is bigger than Manhattan.
- For all intents and purposes, we will be talking about how to name a hurricane. Batten down the hatches.
The following are four stories on the origin of naming hurricanes and how you could name a storm. Try and pick the one real story out of these and become the smartest person you know.
A) Every five years hurricane names are nominated by a member of the Royal Family and ratified by Parliament.
The name Queen Victoria doesn’t usually get brought up on weather channels when someone starts talking about the “Storm Tracker,” “Severe Weather Alert” and “Hurricane Center” but turns out the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 1837–1901 was quite the weather geek.
It was a period of industrial, political and military change within the United Kingdom. This growth of her rule was further marked by Parliament, voting her the additional title of Empress of India in 1876. But Queen Victoria was doing more than gathering key pieces of real estate on the Monopoly board of the world. The Good Old Lady was collecting and surrounding herself with some of the greatest scientists and weather minds ever assembled. Queen Victoria is rumored to have invested literal boatloads of gold to try and track down the origins of storms and ways to learn all she could about the weather. In her later years, it is said that she became obsessed with the wild raging storms marching across the Atlantic. Victoria would apparently spend days tracking the storms and their origins. Always unable to agree on how to properly name and reference the powerful storms, the Queen recruited the support of other members of the Royal Family to initially submit names for each storm that was reported to her. Over the years this became adopted by the country as a ceremonial practice where members of the Royal Family are asked to submit names for a list that will be used for naming hurricanes for the season. After the passing of Queen Victoria, these lists were, in ceremony only, then approved by Parliament before being released for use every five years to world weather organizations. Starting in 1963, citizens of the United Kingdom have been invited to submit names to members of the Royal Family for potential inclusion. The participation of citizens is highly frowned upon and often not practiced, as members of the Royal Family have taken it upon themselves to often name storms after ex-lovers, disdained members of the community and even opponents of their family and childhood sports teams. However, if you are (or would consider becoming) a UK citizen you may very well submit your name and possibly one day have a storm named after you.
B) A list of names for hurricanes is selected by the champion team of the annual Meteorologist Society of Alliances tournament.
Looks like the International Olympic Selection Committee has been missing the boat.
While the Olympics have been busy adding in sports such as skateboarding, surfing and karate, the Meteorologist Society of Alliances (MSA) has been getting down on the dance floor with no medals involved but lots of geeking out and prizes awarded over weather. For more than 70 years, the MSA has hosted its annual tournament of strength, endurance and knowledge related to weather categories, findings, and a bit of luck. While athletic ability and the global spotlight might be missing from this little-known activity, its members sit at the top of the podium of scientific minds on the planet. It’s rumored to have been founded by American scientist and meteorologist, Edward Norton Lorenz, founding member of the MSA, around 1949. Mr. Lorenz is said to have created the first Meteorologist Society of Alliances tournament with his colleagues in England, Switzerland, France, Italy and Australia after recognizing that the international peer group was often coming to the same conclusions but through different methods. Several of these prediction methods seem to take significantly longer than others, but their results were slightly more accurate. This is said to have started the first challenge of the tournament about accuracy vs. speed for weather pattern predictions. The tournament is believed to have grown in popularity as the MSA grew in membership as new countries were added. The tournament soon became the most sought-after competition for scientists and meteorologists around the world. Each nation has one team in the tournament. In 1959, the MSA started releasing the annual names of hurricanes to weather broadcast divisions in their network. Not until 1970 was it revealed that the names of hurricanes on the list appearing in alphabetical order were provided by the winning team of the tournament. A tradition that is agreed on by NOAA and continues today. Each year the MSA awards one MVP award to the meteorologist who has proven themselves indispensable to the weather world the year prior. Sir David Attenborough has received the award a record 17 times since the tournament started. The only way to enter the tournament (and add to the list of hurricane names should your team win) is to be invited by a member of the MSA to join the team in your country. Individuals outside the MSA are invited on special occasions to represent their countries.
C) A list of hurricane names is nominated and agreed upon by invited weather broadcast personalities from across the globe.
Locals only. At least that was the way weather was being shared and reported back when the weather first started to be shared and reported.
If you lived in Choccolocco, Alabama and there was a great frost outside your house, the local broadcast personality would likely call that storm or weather event “The Great Choccolocco Frost of 1933” or something like that. Meanwhile, two states away in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, the same exact weather system might have been called “The Great Pawhuska Frost of 1933.” It really made it tough for historians to wade through along with being confusing for everyone all around. It is believed that several long-standing family feuds in different states started and continued over which family best named a storm system. It was tough times around Thanksgiving to bring people with such strong differences together. So in 1946, at the end of World War II, a group of business executives from Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina sat down to see if they could help find ways to better communicate the storms and their names across their broadcast stations. The belief was that a universal naming system for storms would allow for more comradery for the country and give folks a chance to focus more on daily tasks and family. Arnold Sizemore and Bernard Mannion, respective owners of two of the largest radio broadcast networks in the southwest region at the time reached out to the broadcast personalities at their stations to help start naming the hurricanes that had been beating up the coastline for years. The broadcast personalities turned the idea into an ongoing list of names that was soon added to by broadcast personalities across the globe to divert from storm name confusion. Mr. Sizemore and Mr. Mannion had a public falling out in 1955 when the popularity of naming hurricanes became a national craze and they could not gain approval from either party to start selling the naming rights for hurricanes to local businesses. On August 22, 1955, as one of the biggest storms to ever appear in the Atlantic churned towards the US, it is reported that Mr. Sizemore shot and killed Mr. Mannion on his porch over a debt owed. Today weather broadcast personalities across the globe still submit, vote and agree on hurricane names. If you are a prominent broadcast personality in your community, you are invited to participate in the nomination of names for storms. Hurricane naming rights to local businesses have not ever been approved to our knowledge.
D) A list of hurricane names is selected by the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva, Switzerland.
Naval meteorologists used to have a thing for the ladies. At least that was the case in the 1940s when US Navy meteorologists started naming tropical cyclones in the Pacific after girlfriends, wives or love interests.
Around the same time, back in the US, atmospheric measuring tools were advancing and more cyclones were being identified in the Atlantic. Regional meteorologists discovered that they needed to name the storms sooner rather than later, to keep them straight. Apparently, they were using longitude and latitude as names before actual names—which sounds painful to remember and the names of women proved to be easier to recall. In 1945, the National Weather Bureau (now the National Weather Service) decided to follow the Squids example, naming Atlantic tropical storms after women, but for the more utilitarian reason of clear communication and documentation. It is on record that using female names for storms had nothing to do with their unpredictability or the potential to cause imminent mass destruction with short notice. That continued until 1979 when, under pressure from prominent feminists, they switched to both male and female names, alternating back and forth. Women’s rights activist Roxcy Bolton even proposed replacing the word “hurricane” (sounding like “her-icane”) with the word “him-icane.” That did not end up happening. The National Weather Service apparently ran out of names or lost a bet because The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is now responsible for the lists of hurricane names. Specific to the North Atlantic Ocean, the WMO keeps six lists of 21 male and female names that are used in rotation and recycled every six years. (There are no names that start with the letters Q, U, X, Y or Z). There is a way to infiltrate the WMO without having to turn into Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible. You’ll have to get in touch with the World Meteorological Organization and find a representative of the region you are hoping to persuade. With a little luck and a lot of persistence, it’s possible that you could find a WMO representative who takes a liking to your suggested hurricane name and convinces the committee.
Not exactly The Hurricane Hall Of Fame
Good to know before you start off on your path of naming hurricanes, if a storm is particularly deadly or costly, then its name is retired and replaced by another one.
So pick any name you’d like—just don’t pick one of these.
88 Atlantic storm names have been retired and will never be used again.