26 Sep 2014

How are hurricane names chosen?

Hurricanes are beasts that roam the tropical oceans of our planet, proving harmless if they stay over open water, but deadly if they make landfall.

Feeding off warm ocean waters of 26C or above, they become big rotating storms that deliver an array of hazards – namely damaging winds, torrential rain, flooding and storm surges.

When I write about hurricanes, a common question that I get asked is: who decides on the names of hurricanes that form?

Well, I thought I’d take a quick look at how the naming process works, why is it used and how it has changed over time. 


Why name hurricanes?

The process of naming storms began many years ago, in order to aid in the quick identification of storms in weather warnings and emergency messages.

Names are considered much easier to remember and provide the media with a much clearer way to talk about storms, without any confusion that may result by using technical terms.

Initially, storms were named arbitrarily, but over time meteorologists recognised that a more organised and efficient method was needed, leading to alphabetical lists being created.

Who names hurricanes?

Since 1953, Altantic hurricanes have been named using lists that were managed by the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

Initially, only female names were used to name storms, but this changed from 1979 when men’s names were introduced.

The current arrangement sees lists maintained and updated by an international committee of the World Meteorological Organization.

Six years of names are provided, in alphabetical order (excluding the letters Q, U, X, Y and Z), alternating between male and female names.


Once the six-year period comes to an end, the list is reused with the same names. However, if a storm is so deadly or costly, as Hurricane Katrina was in 2005, the name is retired and another put in its place – see below for names retired since 1954.


If there are so many storms in one season and all of the names are used, then the additional storms that form take names from the Greek alphabet.

For the other oceans basins of the world, a naming convention is also used, with a similar decision process taking place.

Image: @Astro_Alex on Twitter

Tweets by @liamdutton