Tropical cyclone naming

24 November 2023

Tropical cyclones are a dangerous natural hazard and occur all around the world. Naming tropical cyclones has proven to be the fastest way to communicate warnings and raise public awareness and preparedness. Assigning names to tropical cyclones makes tracking and discussing specific storms more straightforward, especially when multiple storms are active simultaneously. Naming also helps to avoid confusion among meteorologists, media, emergency management agencies and the public. Additionally, naming tropical cyclones can aid historical record-keeping and research on storm behaviour and impacts.

Historically, storms have been named for a long time, but haphazardly and after the fact. For example, an Atlantic storm that ripped the mast off a boat named Antje would become known as Antje's hurricane. As weather forecasting developed as a science, storms were identified by their latitude-longitude. However, using short, distinctive names – in written and spoken communications – proved quicker and less subject to error. Those were essential considerations when exchanging detailed storm information with hundreds of widely scattered weather stations, coastal bases, and ships at sea.  

Using female names for storms started in the middle of the 20th century. Then, in the pursuit of a more organized and efficient system, meteorologists in the North Atlantic decided to identify storms using names from an alphabetical list: the first storm in the year would be given a name that begins with A, like Anne, the second B, like Betty, etc.  As of 1953, the National Hurricane Center, a division of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), provided the name lists for Atlantic tropical storms. In 1979, male names were introduced, alternating with the female names.  

WMO has now developed strict procedures to determine a list of tropical cyclone names. There are different rules for naming cyclones in different parts of the world. In some places like the Atlantic and Southern Hemisphere, cyclones are named alphabetically, alternating men's and women's names. In other regions, names follow the alphabetical order of the countries.

The process of naming tropical cyclones

The process of determining names for tropical cyclones is conducted by the relevant tropical cyclone regional body at its annual/biennial session. There are five tropical cyclone regional bodies, i.e. ESCAP/WMO Typhoon Committee, WMO/ESCAP Panel on Tropical Cyclones, RA I Tropical Cyclone Committee, RA IV Hurricane Committee, and RA V Tropical Cyclone Committee. These bodies establish pre-designated lists of names which are proposed by WMO Members’ National Meteorological and Hydrological Services. The selection of names is based on their familiarity to the people in each region, aiming to aid in the understanding and remembrance of cyclones. The naming procedures can vary, with some regions using alphabetical order and others using the alphabetical order of country names. It is important to note that tropical cyclones are not named after individuals.

When selecting a new name, consideration is given to certain factors:  

  • Short in character length for ease of use in communication
  • Easy to pronounce
  • Appropriate significance in different languages
  • Uniqueness – same names cannot be used in other regions. 

Tropical Cyclone Names Worldwide

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