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How are hurricanes named and why do the names get retired?

The Atlantic hurricane season kicked off on 1 June and meteorologists predict that it will be more active than usual with as many as 25 named storms.

How hurricanes get named

The 2024 Atlantic hurricane season is in full swing, getting underway on 1 June. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and FEMA advise those likely to be affected to be vigilant and prepared should one of these monster storms hit your community. The US weather agency is forecasting an 85% chance that this year activity will above normal.

Meteorologists at NOAA are predicting as many as 25 named storms. Between four and seven could be classified as major hurricanes (category 3, 4 or 5). As with any season, these weather systems will all have a name waiting for them when they form.

When did NOAA begin naming storms?

In the mid-twentieth century, the US government began naming storms to simplify communications and inform the public about them. Before, NOAA often used positions or latitude and longitude to communicate about storms but this becomes very confusing when there is more than one present in a specific area at a time.

A storm is given a name when its winds reach more than 39 miles per hour. The World Meteorological Organization, which selects the names, upgrades the storm to a hurricane or typhoon if sustained winds reach more than 74 miles per hour.

Neither the World Meteorological Organization nor NOAA invented this naming practice. In Puerto Rico records show that as early as 1876, before becoming a colony of the United States, some on the island would christen each storm with the name of a saint. A meteorologist in Australia also popularized the practice in the 19th century, which was adopted by the US in the 1950s.

In the first few decades of using this method NOAA had only selected women’s names for storms. However, in the 1970s this practice was ended and traditionally male names were used. This did lead to a phenomenon noted by social scientists where storms with female names were thought of as weaker and less of a threat; highlighting the ways in which gender bias informs a society’s perception of a threat. It is important to remember that the severity of a storm has no influence over the name that is selected. Quite the opposite.

Twenty-one storm names have already been chosen for each of the next six years, letters Q, U, X, Y and Z are not used. As the storms emerge they will be given a name in alphabetical order, and should there be more than twenty-one, the names will be taken from an alternate list approved by the WMO. The lists are recycled every six years.

What names have been retired?

NOAA has reported that “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,” it can be retired. Since 2000, forty-four names have been taken out of circulation. This compares to twenty-two names retired between 1980 and 1999. This means that since the beginning of this century more than double the names have been retired than the previous two decades --an indicator of the impact of climate change on storm severity.