lavizzara/ShutterstockHurricane Harvey. Hurricane Irma. Hurricane Sandy. The names for tropical storms might sound cutesy, but they’re not random.
Originally, hurricanes in the West Indies were named after the saint’s day when the storm hit, according to the NOAA. For instance, there have been two Hurricane San Felipes in Puerto Rico—one that hit on September 13, 1876, and another that same date in 1928.
By the 1900s, an Australian meteorologist started a new system. Instead of naming hurricanes after saints, he started using women’s names, and the United States followed suit in 1953. By 1979, men’s names were added to the mix. So how do meteorologists pick which name to use?
The World Meteorological Organization comes up with a list of names way before the storms hit. The group has six lists with 21 names each—one for every letter except Q, U, X, Y, and Z—to be used each year in the Atlantic. So some of the next Atlantic hurricane names you can expect to see are Katia, Lee, Maria, and Ophelia.
The West coast gets its names from six different lists, which include every letter except Q and U. Every time a tropical storm hits, meteorologists take the names alphabetically down that year’s list. Some of the names for Eastern North Pacific hurricanes this year are: Hilary, Irwin, Jova and Kenneth. (If you live in a storm-prone area, learn how to prepare your house for a hurricane.)
Once six years go by, the naming starts again with the first list. For instance, the first Atlantic’s first tropical storm was Hurricane Arlene, and that will be the name for the first hurricane in 2023, too. If there happens to be more than 21 tropical storms in one year (or 24 in the Pacific), the rest will come from the Greek alphabet, starting with Alpha and going down to Omega.
Now that the lists are established, it’s hard to change the names on them. The lists only change if there’s a particularly bad storm, which is why you won’t be seeing another Hurricane Katrina or Sandy in the future. The World Meteorological Organization decides if it will take any names off the list during its annual meeting, so no word yet on whether Harvey will make the cut for future storms. While you wait, check out the inspiring story of a news crew who saved a man’s life during Hurricane Harvey.
[Source: Travel + Leisure]