How Do Cyclones Get Their Names?

Have you ever wondered how cyclones, hurricanes and typhoons are named? You might be surprised to learn that the names aren’t chosen randomly – instead there is a pretty sophisticated set of rules scientists have to follow when naming the next tropical storm.

The only difference between a cyclone, hurricane and typhoon is the location where they occur. Image Credit: NASA Images/Shutterstock

Why do we name tropical storms?

Scientists name tropical storms in order to stop confusion when communicating information to the public. This is particularly useful when two storms are occurring at the same time, as seen with Cyclones Trevor and Veronica earlier this year.

In 1887, Australian weatherman Clement Wragge was the first person to begin the tradition of naming tropical storms. He named them after Greek letters, mythological creatures and even political figures of the time that he didn’t like! While the practice died off in Australia after Wragge retired in 1902, it eventually picked up again in 1964, with Cyclone Bessie being the first Australian tropical storm to be officially named by the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM).

Until 1975, tropical storms all around the world were only given feminine names. This changed when former Australian Minister of Science Bill Morrison decided to start naming storms after both male and female names, in recognition of it being International Women’s Year. This practice soon became commonplace.

Today, each organisation responsible for the naming of tropical storms in certain regions uses a predetermined alphabetical list that alternates between masculine and feminine names. The BOM currently has a list of 104 names that will be used to name cyclones for the next 10 years. You can check out the list here (my personal favourites include Wallace, Iggy and Ferdinand).

Are any names excluded?

Yes, certain names may be removed from the list or skipped over. Unlike Wragge, the meteorologists of today will avoid using names associated with current political figures or other people prominent in the media. For example, if the next hurricane in the Atlantic region was to be named ‘Hurricane Donald’, it would probably be changed to another masculine name starting with ‘D’, like Dennis or Douglas.

Names can also be permanently retired if a tropical storm is particularly devastating or costly. So in Australia, we will never experience another Cyclone Tracy or Larry, while the US will never have another Hurricane Katrina or Sandy.

Due to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the name has been permanently retired from being used to name another North Atlantic Hurricane. Image Credit: Brian Nolan/Shutterstock

 Male vs Female Names

Which cyclone do you think would be more severe? Cyclone Bruce or Cyclone Belle? If you picked Bruce, don’t worry, you’re not alone. However there is actually no correlation between a tropical storms name and its severity. Remember, the names are already predetermined by the list, long before the storm has even developed!

Yet scientists from the University of Illinois have found that hurricanes with feminine names are often more destructive than those with masculine names. Based on the statistical modelling of damage and devastation caused by hurricanes between 1950 and 2012, they back up their claim with a public survey. They found that there is a common perception that hurricanes with more feminine sounding names are likely to be less severe, and therefore people do not prepare accordingly compared to if they were being faced with a masculine sounding hurricane. When asked their perceptions about the ferocity of hurricanes with different names, participants generally judged a hurricane named Alexander to be riskier than one named Alexandra. Participants were also found to be more likely to evacuate if they were threatened by Hurricane Christopher as opposed to Hurricane Christina.

So remember, next time you hear about Cyclone Linda threatening Australia or Hurricane Rose hitting the US, don’t underestimate their potential impacts! Their names have no significance to their ferocity. If you want to read more about the study produced by the scientists at the University of Illinois, check out the following link.

Can I get cyclone named after me?

Unfortunately, you cannot request a tropical storm to be named after you (although I personally don’t understand why anyone would want to be directly associated with a potentially catastrophic natural disaster…). Apparently you can write to the BOM to request a name to be added to the list in the future, though you’re probably going to have to wait a long time for that name to be approved!


One Response to “How Do Cyclones Get Their Names?”

  1. Eliza Kelly says:

    I never knew this! Really interesting blog and I’m sure it’s not something that many people would know.