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Friday, September 2, 2011

Reference Question of the Month

Hurricane Irene, Photo credit NASA/NOAA GOES Project 
Posted by Judy T.

Current events, both good and bad, often prompt people to ask questions at the Reference Desk.  In light of this past weekend’s headline news, our question is:  How do hurricanes get their names?

Answer:  For several hundred years many hurricanes in the West Indies were named after the particular saint's day on which the hurricane occurred.  An Australian meteorologist, Clement Wragge, began assigning women’s names to tropical storms before the end of the 19th century.  In 1953, the National Weather Service began using female names for storms.  The practice of naming hurricanes just after women came to an end in 1978 when men's and women's names were included in the Eastern North Pacific storm lists. In 1979, male and female names were included in lists for the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.   One name for each letter of the alphabet is selected, except for Q, U and Z. For Atlantic Ocean hurricanes, the names may be French, Spanish or English, since these are the major languages bordering the Atlantic Ocean where the storms occur.  The World Meteorological Organization uses six lists in rotation. The same lists are reused every six years. The 2011 list of names was used in 2005, and it will be used again in 2017.   If a hurricane is very deadly or costly the name is retired, and a new name is chosen.  Some of the retired names include Andrew, Camille, Hugo and Katrina.  Source: National Hurricane Center 

For more information about all current hurricanes and tropical cyclones, visit the NASA/NOAA website.

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