A year ago today, October 10, 2018, the Florida Panhandle braced for Hurricane Michael, a category 5 storm which devastated Mexico Beach. We did a little research to discover who hurricanes get their names.
Andrew. Charley. Irma. Michael. All Floridians know what these names mean. Destruction and loss of life from the violent hurricanes. But few of us understand the history and process of naming storms. Prior to 1953, storms were identified by numerical designations. The fifth storm in 1950 would be 1950-5, and so on. In 1953, the U.S. began naming storms using feminine names, modeling the practice established by the military during World War II with Pacific Ocean storms. The idea was that names simplified the process and reduced confusion among the public. Under pressure from women’s rights groups, masculine names were added in 1979 for Atlantic storms.
Today, the World Meteorological Organization creates a list of Atlantic Ocean storm names for a six-year period, and continually rotates the lists, removing only retired names. The letters Q, U, X, Y and Z are not used. Should the named storms extend beyond the twenty-one letters, the Greek alphabet is utilized.
Only particularly deadly and costly storms have their names removed from rotation. From 1954 through 2018, eighty-nine names have been retired. In 2005, five names were permanently removed from the list, including Katrina and Wilma, which both hit Florida. Let’s hope that we have many years before another name is stricken.