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How do tropical storms and hurricanes get their names?

Isaias next name up on the 2020 storm list

2020 storm names.
2020 storm names.

ORLANDO, Fla. – The next name on the 2020 list is raising some questions as to who actually names these storms. Isaias, pronounced ees-ah-EE-ahs is the next name up in the Atlantic Basin. If you’re wondering, Isaias is the Late Latin and Spanish form of the Hebrew name Isaiah from the Bible.

If you’re looking for the short answer as to who names the storms, the World Meteorological Organization has the responsibility for naming the storms that impact the Atlantic Basin. Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, the WMO is a specialized agency of the United Nations whose mandate covers weather, climate and water resources. You would think NOAA’s National Hurricane Center would have that responsibility, but that’s not the case. The WMO follows their own strict guidelines for the naming of storms. The list of names currently alternates between male and female and are on a six-year rotation.

According to the WMO 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 pre-designated list of names is proposed by the members that are relevant to where the storms may impact.

Why are storms named?

According to the National Hurricane Center, storms are named to help with communication, especially when there are multiple storms at the same time.

The history of naming storms

Storm naming began in 1950 with the joint Army/Navy Phonetic Alphabet (Able, Baker, Charlie). In 1953, the U.S. began using female names. It wasn’t until 1979 that both male and female names were used in the Atlantic Basin. Prior to 1950, storms were tracked by the year and order in which they developed. Most of the names are short and easy to remember.

When does a storm receive a name?

When a storm reaches tropical storm status, winds of 39 mph or greater, the storm receives a name. When the storm weakens to a tropical depression, it will keep its name.

The six-year cycle

You may remember some of thee 2020 names from years past. That is because all of the names are in a six-year rotation. You will see this list of names again in 2026. If a storm gets retired, a new name will replace the retired name. A storm being retired is the only way that a name on the list would change. In a given year, if the “A” storm is a male, the “B” storm will be a female name. The list will alternate the gender of the name each year as well. The first name in 2020 was Arthur. In 2021 it will be Ana. In 2022 it will go back to the male name of Alex.

How do storms get retired?

If a storm creates so much damage or loss of life that it would be inappropriate to reuse for reasons of sensitivity, the World Meteorological Organization will retire that storm’s name. Think Andrew, Katrina, Ivan, Irma, Maria, etc. This retiring is done at the organization’s annual conference in the spring. No name on the 2019 list has been retired do to the Coronavirus pandemic, but will be revisited during the 2021 annual meeting.

What happens if we run out of names in a given season?

If we run out of names, the letters of the Greek alphabet are used. This has happened only once, during the hyperactive year of 2005. 28 storms developed that year. The letters, Q, U, X, Y, Z are not used due to a lack of names that start with those letters.


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