Tropical Cyclone Names

Tropical cyclone names in the Atlantic vary year-to-year and the list of names is rotated every six years. But where do the names come from, and who chooses them?

Content:
Why name tropical cyclones?
When (and how) is a tropical cyclone named?
History of Hurricane Names
2020-2025 Names in the Atlantic Basin
Retired Names
What happens if we run out of names in one year?
A Crossover Event: Atlantic to East Pacific Tropical Cyclones

Why name tropical cyclones?

From left to right, Hurricanes Katia, Irma and Jose in the North Atlantic Basin during the hyper-active 2017 Hurricane Season.
From left to right, Hurricanes Katia, Irma, and Jose in the North Atlantic Basin during the hyper-active 2017 Hurricane Season.

According to the National Hurricane Center (NHC), “experience shows that the use of short, distinctive names in written as well as spoken communications is quicker and less subject to error than the older, more cumbersome latitude-longitude identification methods.”

We’ve actually seen this work in numbering tropical waves as it moves across T&T over the last few years.

The NHC continues, “these advantages are especially important in exchanging detailed storm information between hundreds of widely scattered stations, coastal bases, and ships at sea.”

The use of easily remembered names greatly reduces confusion when two or more tropical storms occur at the same time. This is also true of tropical waves when T&T experiences back-to-back waves and inclement weather associated with one or both.

In the past, confusion and false rumors have arisen when storm advisories broadcast from radio stations were mistaken for warnings concerning an entirely different storm located hundreds of miles away.

When (and how) is a tropical cyclone named?

The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale which governs tropical cyclone classification in the North Atlantic and Eastern Pacific Basins.
The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale which governs tropical cyclone classification in the North Atlantic and Eastern Pacific Basins.

In all basins, then a tropical cyclone reaches tropical-storm-strength, the respective Meteorological Organizations in charge of that area (National Hurricane Center for the Atlantic and Eastern Pacific Basins), will name the tropical system.

Note that tropical cyclones can form, such as tropical depressions and never be named as it never reaches tropical-storm-strength. In addition, in post-season analysis, tropical cyclones may be added and will not be named.

The names alternate between male and female for each year and follow alphabetical order (A through W).  Forecasters skip over the letters Q, U, X, Y, and Z due to the very few names that begin with these letters.

According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), there is a strict procedure to determine a list of tropical cyclone names in an ocean basin by the Tropical Cyclone Regional Body responsible for that basin at its annual/biennial meeting.

The regional bodies (hurricane committees for respective regions) determine a predesignated list of hurricane names for six years separately at its annual meeting. These names are proposed by members in that region, including national meteorological and hydrological services in Northern and Central America as well as the Caribbean.

The WMO also noted that tropical cyclones/hurricanes/typhoons are not named after any particular person. The names selected are those that are familiar to the people in each region. Storms are named for people to easily understand and remember the tropical cyclone/hurricane/typhoon in their region, thus facilitating disaster risk awareness, preparedness, management, and reduction.

The History of Hurricane Names

A NASA satellite image of Hurricane Esther in 1961. This makes it one of the first satellite images taken of a hurricane. (NASA)
A NASA satellite image of Hurricane Esther in 1961. This makes it one of the first satellite images taken of a hurricane. (NASA)

In the beginning, storms were named arbitrarily. An Atlantic storm that ripped off the mast of a boat named Antje became known as Antje’s hurricane. Then the mid-1900s saw the start of the practice of using feminine names for storms.

In the pursuit of a more organized and efficient naming system, meteorologists later decided to identify storms using names from a list arranged alphabetically. Thus, a storm with a name that begins with A, like Anne, would be the first storm to occur in the year. Before the end of the 1900s, forecasters started using male names for those forming in the Southern Hemisphere.

Since 1953, Atlantic tropical storms have been named from lists originated by the National Hurricane Center. They are now maintained and updated by an international committee of the World Meteorological Organization. The original name lists featured only women’s names. In 1979, men’s names were introduced, and they alternate with the women’s names. Six lists are used in rotation. Thus, the 2020 list will be used again in 2026.

2020-2025 Names in the Atlantic Basin

The six lists below are used in rotation and re-cycled every six years, i.e., the 2020 list will be used again in 2026, barring any retired names that will need to be replaced.

202020212022202320242025
ArthurAnaAlexArleneAlbertoAndrea
BerthaBillBonnieBretBerylBarry
CristobalClaudetteColinCindyChrisChantal
DollyDannyDanielleDonDebbyDorian
EdouardElsaEarlEmilyErnestoErin
FayFredFionaFranklinFrancineFernand
GonzaloGraceGastonGertGordonGabrielle
HannaHenriHermineHaroldHeleneHumberto
IsaiasIdaIanIdaliaIsaacImelda
JosephineJulianJuliaJoseJoyceJerry
KyleKateKarlKatiaKirkKaren
LauraLarryLisaLeeLeslieLorenzo
MarcoMindyMartinMargotMiltonMelissa
NanaNicholasNicoleNigelNadineNestor
OmarOdetteOwenOpheliaOscarOlga
PaulettePeterPaulaPhilippePattyPablo
ReneRoseRichardRinaRafaelRebekah
SallySamSharySeanSaraSebastien
TeddyTeresaTobiasTammyTonyTanya
VickyVictorVirginieVinceValerieVan
WilfredWandaWalterWhitneyWilliamWendy

Retired Names

The only time that a tropical cyclone name is retired is if a storm is so deadly or costly that the future use of its name on a different storm would be inappropriate for obvious reasons of sensitivity. If that occurs, then at an annual meeting by the committee (called primarily to discuss many other issues) the offending name is stricken from the list, and another name is selected to replace it.

There is an exception to the retirement rule, however. Before 1979, when the first permanent six-year storm name list began, some storm names were simply not used anymore. For example, in 1966, “Fern” was substituted for “Frieda,” and no reason was cited.

Below is a list of retired names for the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico. There are, however, a great number of destructive storms not included on this list because they occurred before the hurricane naming convention was established in 1950.

1954
Carol
Hazel
Edna
1955
Connie
Diane
Ione
Janet
19561957
Audrey
195819591960
Donna
1961
Carla
Hattie
19621963
Flora
1964
Cleo
Dora
Hilda
1965
Betsy
1966
Inez
1967
Beulah
19681969
Camille
1970
Celia
19711972
Agnes
1973
1974
Carmen
Fifi
1975
Eloise
19761977
Anita
1978
Greta
1979
David
Frederic
1980
Allen
198119821983
Alicia
19841985
Elena
Gloria
198619871988
Gilbert
Joan
1989
Hugo
1990
Diana
Klaus
1991
Bob
1992
Andrew
1993
19941995
Luis
Marilyn
Opal
Roxanne
1996
Cesar
Fran
Hortense
19971998
Georges
Mitch
1999
Floyd
Lenny
2000
Keith
2001
Allison
Iris
Michelle
2002
Isidore
Lili
2003
Fabian
Isabel
Juan
2004
Charley
Frances
Ivan
Jeanne
2005
Dennis
Katrina
Rita
Stan
Wilma
20062007
Dean
Felix
Noel
2008
Gustav
Ike
Paloma
20092010
Igor
Tomas
2011
Irene
2012
Sandy
2013
Ingrid
20142015
Erika
Joaquin
2016
Matthew
Otto
2017
Harvey
Irma
Maria
Nate
2018
Florence
Michael
20192020

What happens if we run out of names in one year?

If the Greek alphabet has to be used in 2020, it would follow the same list as 2005, starting with Alpha.
If the Greek alphabet has to be used in 2020, it would follow the same list as 2005, starting with Alpha.

In the event that more than twenty-one named tropical cyclones occur in the Atlantic basin in a season, additional storms will take names from the Greek alphabet. This naming convention has been established by the World Meteorological Organization Tropical Cyclone Programme.

This means that the 22nd named storm would be named after the first letter in the Greek Alphabet, Alpha, followed by the second letter, Beta, and so on. In all, 24 letters in the Greek Alphabet can be used.

Since naming tropical storms and hurricanes began during the mid-1900s, there has been only one year where there were more than 21 named storms in a single hurricane season.

The notorious 2005 Atlantic hurricane season spawned a record-breaking 28 named storms. Several storms strengthened into historic hurricanes, including Katrina, Rita and Wilma that year. “The season marked the first time that meteorologists had to resort to the use of the Greek alphabet for the naming of tropical cyclones,” the WMO said.

If the Greek alphabet has to be used in 2020, it would follow the same list as 2005, starting with Alpha. However, letters of the Greek alphabet that are used for tropical systems cannot be retired.

“If a significant storm designated by a letter of the Greek Alphabet, in either the Atlantic or eastern North Pacific Basin, were considered worthy of being ‘retired,’ it would be included in the list of retired names with the year of occurrence and other details, but that particular letter in the Greek Alphabet would continue to be available for use in the future,” the WMO explained.

Once the year changes, as we move from 2020 to 2021, the new list of names will be used.

A Crossover Event: Atlantic to East Pacific Tropical Cyclones (and vice versa)

Track map of Hurricane Otto of the 2016 Atlantic hurricane season. The points show the location of the storm at 6-hour intervals. The color represents the storm's maximum sustained wind speeds as classified in the Saffir–Simpson scale, as Otto reached Category 3 strength prior to landfall.
Track map of Hurricane Otto of the 2016 Atlantic hurricane season. The points show the location of the storm at 6-hour intervals. The color represents the storm’s maximum sustained wind speeds as classified in the Saffir–Simpson scale, as Otto reached Category 3 strength prior to landfall.

What happens if a tropical cyclone from the Atlantic moves across Central America into the Pacific – or the other way around – will it keep its name?

Prior to 2000, storms were renamed after crossing from the Gulf of Mexico into the Eastern Pacific. At the 22nd hurricane committee in 2000 it was decided that tropical cyclones that moved from the Atlantic to the Eastern Pacific basin and vice versa would no longer be renamed.

The most recent tropical cyclone to complete this feat was Hurricane Otto in 2016.

Contributing by De-Shaun Robinson

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