For several hundred years, many hurricanes in the West Indies were named after the particular saint's day on which the hurricane occurred. Ivan R. Tannehill describes in his book "Hurricanes" the major tropical storms of recorded history and mentions many hurricanes named after saints.
For example, there was "Hurricane Santa Ana", which struck Puerto Rico with exceptional violence on July 26, 1825, and "San Felipe" (the first) and "San Felipe" (the second), which hit Puerto Rico on September 13 in 1876 and 1928, respectively.
The first known meteorologist to assign names to tropical cyclones was Clement Wragge, an Australian meteorologist. At the end of the l9th century, he first used letters of the Greek alphabet, then names from Greek and Roman mythology, and eventually progressed to the use of feminine names.
In the United States, an early example of the use of a woman's name for a storm was in the novel "Storm" by George R. Stewart, published by Random House in 1941. During World War II, this practice became widespread in weather map discussions among forecasters, especially Air Force and Navy meteorologists who plotted the movements of storms over the wide expanses of the Pacific Ocean.
In 1953, United States weather services began using female names for storms after abandoned a confusing a two-year old plan to name storms by a phonetic alphabet (Able, Baker, Charlie, etc.).
The practice of naming hurricanes solely after women came to an end in 1978, when both men's and women's names were included in the Eastern North Pacific storm lists. In 1979, male and female names were also included in lists for the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.
Why Tropical Cyclones Are Named
Experience shows that the use of short, distinctive, given names in written and spoken communications is quicker and less subject to error than the older, more cumbersome latitude-longitude identification methods.
These advantages are especially important in exchanging detailed storm information between hundreds of widely scattered stations, airports, coastal bases, and ships at sea.
The use of easily remembered names greatly reduces confusion when two or more tropical storms occur at the same time. For example, one hurricane can be moving slowly westward in the Gulf of Mexico, while at exactly the same time, another hurricane can be moving rapidly northward along the Atlantic coast.
In the past, confusion and false rumors have arisen when storm advisories broadcast from one radio station were mistaken for warnings concerning an entirely different storm located hundreds of miles away.
The name lists draw from a variety of languages because hurricanes affect multiple nations and are tracked by the public and weather services of many countries, not just the United States. The nations involved agree upon the lists during international meetings of the World Meteorological Organization.
Atlantic Basin Names
The National Hurricane Center (RSMC Miami, FL) is responsible for the Atlantic Basin west of 30°W. If a disturbance intensifies into a tropical storm, the Center will give the storm a name from one of the six lists below.
A separate set is used each year, beginning with the first name in the set. After the sets have all been used, they will be used again. The 2019 set, for example, will be used again to name storms in the year 2025.
The letters Q, U, X, Y, and Z are not included because of the scarcity of names beginning with those letters. If over 21 named tropical cyclones occur in a year, the Greek alphabet will be used following the "W" name.
Greek Alphabet: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Epsilon, Zeta, Eta, Theta, Iota, Kappa, Lambda, Mu, Nu, Xi, Omicron, Pi, Rho, Sigma, Tau, Upsilon, Phi, Chi, Psi, Omega
On average, there are 11 named tropical cyclones, with six becoming hurricanes, and of those eight, on average two become Category 3 or greater.
Retired hurricane names: Atlantic Basin
The only time the lists above change is when a storm is so deadly or costly that the future use of its name on a different storm would be inappropriate or insensitive. In this situation, the name will be stricken from the list and another name is selected to replace it at the annual meeting of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).
The retired names are as follows:
- A's: Allison (2001), Andrew (1992), Alicia (1983), Allen (1980), Anita (1977), Agnes (1972), Audrey (1957)
- B's: Bob (1991), Beulah (1967), Betsy (1965)
- C's: Charley (2004), Cesar (1996), Carmen (1974), Celia (1970), Camille (1969), Carol (1965), Cleo (1964), Carla (1961), Connie (1955)
- D's: Dean (2007), Dennis (2005), Diana (1990), David (1979), Dora (1964), Donna (1960), Diane (1955)
- E's: Erika (2015), Elena (1985), Eloise (1975), Edna (1968)
- F's: Florence (2018), Felix (2007), Frances (2004), Fabian (2003), Floyd (1999), Fran (1996), Frederic (1979), Fifi (1974), Flora (1963)
- G's: Gustav (2008), Georges (1998), Gilbert (1988), Gloria (1985), Gracie (1959)
- H's: Harvey (2017), Hortense (1996), Hugo (1989), Hilda (1964), Hattie (1961), Hazel (1954)
- I's: Irma (2017), Ingrid (2013), Irene (2011), Igor (2010), Ike (2008), Ivan (2004), Isabel (2003), Isidore (2002), Iris (2001), Inez (1966), Ione (1955)
- J's: Joaquin (2015), Jeanne (2004), Juan (2003), Joan (1988), Janet (1955)
- K's: Katrina (2005), Keith (2000), Klaus (1990)
- L's: Lili (2002), Lenny (1999), Luis (1995)
- M's: Michael (2018), Maria (2017), Matthew (2016), Michelle (2001), Mitch (1998), Marilyn (1995)
- N's: Nate (2017), Noel (2007)
- O's: Otto (2016), Opal (1995)
- P's: Paloma (2008)
- R's: Rita (2005), Roxanne (1995)
- S's: Sandy (2012), Stan (2005)
- T's: Tomas (2010)
- W's: Wilma (2005)
Eastern North Pacific Names
The National Hurricane Center (RSMC Miami, FL) is is also responsible for the North East Pacific Basin east of 140°W.
If a disturbance intensifies into a tropical storm, the Center will give the storm a name from one of the six lists below. A separate set is used each year beginning with the first name in the set.
On average there are 15 named tropical cyclones, with eight becoming hurricanes, and three becoming Category 3 or greater.
After the sets have all been used, they will be repeated.
Central North Pacific Names
Central Pacific Hurricane Center (RSMC Honolulu, HI) area of responsibility is from 140°W longitude to 180° longitude. The names below are used one after the other. When the bottom of one list is reached, the next name comes from the top of the next list.
Other Basin Names (Worldwide)
Lists of names for other tropical cyclone basins outside of National Hurricane Center's area of responsibility can be found on the World Meteorological Organization tropical cyclone naming page offsite link.