This Is How Hurricanes Are Named

Nope, it's not random.

Laura. Dorian. Harvey. Sandy. Every time a threatening storm makes headlines, you probably find yourself wondering, how do they name hurricanes?

How are hurricanes named?

Originally, hurricanes were named after the saint’s day when the storm hit. For instance, there have been two Hurricane San Felipes in Puerto Rico—one on September 13, 1876, and another on that same date in 1928.

But by the 1900s, an Australian meteorologist started a new system. Instead of naming hurricanes after saints, he used women’s names. The United States followed suit in 1953. And by 1979, men’s names were added to the mix.

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Who picks the names?

Unsurprisingly, meteorologists name hurricanes. The World Meteorological Organization has six different lists, each with 21 names—one with every letter except Q, U, X, Y, and Z—that they cycle through for hurricanes in the Atlantic.

So how are hurricanes named on the West Coast? Their names come from another set of six lists—which include every letter except Q and U. Once six years go by, the naming starts again with the first list.

The lists change only if there’s a particularly bad storm. So you won’t be seeing another Hurricane Katrina or Sandy in the future. The World Meteorological Organization decides which names to take off the lists during its annual meeting. Recently retired names include Florence and Michael.

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What are this year’s names?

Some of the Atlantic storms you can expect to see this year are Ana, Elsa (maybe meteorologists love Frozen), Julian, Mindy, and—if we get all the way to W—Wanda.

But how are hurricanes named if there are more than 21 storms (or 24 in the Pacific)? After all, NOAA anticipates above-average hurricane activity this year. If this happens, then the rest of the names will come from the Greek alphabet, starting with Alpha and ending with Omega.

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Marissa Laliberte
Marissa Laliberte-Simonian is a London-based associate editor with the global promotions team at WebMD’s Medscape.com and was previously a staff writer for Reader's Digest. Her work has also appeared in Business Insider, Parents magazine, CreakyJoints, and the Baltimore Sun. You can find her on Instagram @marissasimonian.