Refresher Course: How Do Hurricanes Get Their Names?


Harvey, Irma, Jose and Katia weren’t household names before they started shuffling in as hurricanes in August, but the names have been set for decades.

Atlantic hurricanes have six years of its own lists on rotation, which you can find through the National Hurricane Center. The next hurricanes that develop in 2017 would be named Lee and Maria, ending with Vince and Whitney.

Meteorologists found over time that short and easy-to-remember names not only reduce confusion, but holds the public interest as they keep tabs on the storms. An international committee with the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has a strict procedure to prevent panic for a storm on the other wrong of the world.

Of course, WMO retires names like Katrina and Sandy when the storms are too deadly or costly to drudge up bad memories. Other retired hurricane names include Fabian, Beulah, Hortense and Inez.

For reasons not completely known — but that a country with a self-proclaimed pussy grabber in the White House can guess — the United States formally adopted a system of only feminine names in 1953, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The History Channel did some digging:

Once these storms took on female names, weathermen began talking about them as if they were women. They used sexist clichés to describe their behavior—saying that this one was “temperamental,” or that another was “teasing” or “flirting” with a coastline.

Understandably, female meteorologists and feminists activists weren’t impressed.

One of these dissenters was a Roxcy Bolton, the Florida feminist “credited with founding the nation’s first rape treatment center and who helped persuade national weather forecasters not to name tropical storms after only women,” according to her New York Times obituary (Bolton died earlier in May 2017). “Women, Ms. Bolton said at the time, ‘deeply resent being arbitrarily associated with disaster.’”

Storms, at the very least, achieved gender parity in 1978 when male names were added to alternate with the female names, according to NOAA. (Fortunately for this writer, Hurricane Ida wasn’t notorious enough in 2009, though there’s always another shot in 2021.)

Hurricane Irma is on track to hit Florida, Texas will be recovering from Hurricane Harvey in the months to come, while Jose and Katia are just getting started. As mother nature reacts to our emissions with escalating disasters, maybe naming them after humans in increasingly appropriate.

Ida Mojadad

Ida Mojadad is the Staff Writer at SF Weekly. You can reach her at (415)-359-2728 or imojadad@sfweekly.com. Follow her on Twitter at @idamoj.

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Ida Mojadad
Tags: atlantic storms carribbean History Channel Houston hurricane harvey hurricane irma hurricane jose national hurricane center National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration world meteorological organization

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