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How to Understand How Hurricane Names are Picked

Will you share your name with a tropical storm? Some historical background will help you understand how hurricane names are picked.


  • TIP: Go to the National Hurricane Center's website for the hurricane name lists.
  • Step 1: Rest assured that Katrina -- the name of the hurricane that devastated New Orleans in 2005 -- will never be used again: the names of hurricanes that are particularly destructive are retired.
  • FACT: The 2005 hurricane season had so many storms that all 21 names on that year’s list were used, plus 6 letters of the Greek alphabet.
  • Step 2: Know who picks the names for Atlantic hurricanes: an international committee of the World Meteorological Organization chooses names for 6 lists that are used in rotation. Each list has 21 names, with men’s and women’s names alternating. Q, U, X, Y, and Z are excluded. If a calendar year has more than 21 hurricanes, the Greek alphabet is used instead of human names.
  • TIP: There are lists of hurricane names for 10 different regions.
  • Step 3: Know the brief system that was used from 1951 to 1953 -- naming hurricanes after the spelling alphabet in use at that time -- Able, Baker, Charlie, and so on.
  • Step 4: Know how giving hurricanes human names began: the current system was adopted in 1953 by meteorologists, who realized that short, distinctive names were easier for storm-trackers to understand. At first, only women’s names were used; in 1979, men’s names were added to the mix.
  • Step 5: Understand that naming hurricanes began hundreds of years ago. In the 19th century, hurricanes in the West Indies were named after the saint whose feast fell on the same day the storm hit. Storms that struck elsewhere were named at whim.

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