How tropical storms get their names

File: The WMO states on its website, "the main purpose of naming a tropical cyclone/hurricane is basically for people easily to understand and remember the tropical cyclone/hurricane in a region." Photo: wikimedia commons

JOHANNESBURG - The practice of naming hurricanes solely after women came to an end in 1978 when men's and women's names were included in the Eastern North Pacific storm lists.

The official method to name a tropical cyclone was to refer to its latitude-longitude position but this became confusing when storms moved positions. 

It was found that using a short, distinctive name enabled meteorologists to exchange detailed information about various storms which may be occurring at the same time in the same ocean basin.

For several hundred years many hurricanes in the West Indies were named after the particular saint's day on which the hurricane occurred. US meteorologists gave tropical storms women’s names.

Satellites were first used by the military and it is said that Air Force and Navy meteorologists, who plotted the movements of storms, named these storms after their wives and girlfriends. 

In 1979, male and female names were included in lists for the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico after a growing number of women breaking into meteorology in the mid-1970’s shed light on the inherently sexist practice.

This decision was met with opposition as people claimed that male names wouldn’t inspire enough caution.

The first male-named hurricane in the system, “Bob,” occurred in the United States in July 1979.

Now names of both genders and non-gendered names are maintained by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) and are cycled periodically over a six year time frame.

Southwest Indian Ocean names for tropical storms to be used for the next two years


Lists of names are compiled and maintained by various meteorological committees regionally and submitted to the WMO annually.

The WMO states on its website, "the main purpose of naming a tropical cyclone/hurricane is basically for people easily to understand and remember the tropical cyclone/hurricane in a region, thus to facilitate tropical cyclone/hurricane disaster risk awareness, preparedness, management and reduction."

Each list has a name for each letter of the alphabet starting with A and ending with Z.

A name on the list will be replaced if a storm given this name causes extensive damage and loss of life.

A tropical cyclone is not given a name (or, in some cases, a number) until the sustained maximum wind speed reaches a threshold of 34 knots.

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