| How are hurricanes named? I would like to know
how Hurricane Isaac got its name.|
|Question Date: 2012-08-29|
The National weather service creates a list
of names starting with A and going towards Z,
and so each hurricane season they sequentially
name the storms so that if multiple storms are
active there is no ambiguity. Issac is the 9th
tropical cyclone of the hurricane season in the
Atlantic part of the world; these are the
hurricanes that affect the USA. I bet you can
find the names to be used this season on
In the old days when I first started studying
hurricanes, I think they only used girls'
But nowadays its gender balanced since after all
both girls and boys can be disruptive like a
In the Atlantic Ocean, tropical storms that
reach a wind speed of 39 miles per hour are
given a name, such as 'Tropical Storm Isaac'. If
the storm reaches a wind speed of 74 miles per
hour it is then called a hurricane, which keeps
the same name as the tropical storm.
So 'Tropical Storm Isaac' becomes 'Hurricane
Isaac'. Names have been given to Atlantic
hurricanes for hundreds of years. People living
in the Caribbean Islands named storms after the
saint of the day from the Roman Catholic
calendar for the day on which the hurricane
occurred such as 'Hurricane Santa Barbara'.
A long time ago storms in the U.S. were named
according to the exact point where the storm
started (with a latitude and longitude).
However, latitudes and longitudes are very
difficult to remember. During World War II,
military meteorologists began to use women's
names for storms. This made remembering the
storms so easy that it was adopted by the
National Hurricane Center for use on Atlantic
Ocean storms. In 1979, meteorologists stopped
using women's names for storms and started using
men's names. For each year, a list of 21 names,
each starting with a different letter of the
alphabet was developed and arranged in
alphabetical order. The first tropical storm of
the year was given the name beginning with the
letter "A", the second with the letter "B" and
so on. During even-numbered years, men's names
were given to the odd-numbered storms and during
odd-numbered years, women's names were given to
Today, the World Meteorological Organization
maintains the lists of Atlantic hurricane names.
They have six lists which are reused every six
The storm we call Isaac was the 9th tropical
storm (A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I = 9th letter
in the alphabet) of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane
season and so it was given the 9th name on the
Technically, hurricanes are not named.
However, tropical storms, the predecessors to
hurricanes, are. When a tropical storm
(sustained winds >39 mph) grows strong enough to
be reclassified as a hurricane (sustained winds
> 74 mph), it takes the name of the tropical
storm. Tropical storms are named alphabetically
throughout the year – the first storm of the
season starts with an 'A', the second a 'B', and
so on (skipping the letters Q, U, X, Y, and Z).
Thus, Isaac is the 9th named storm of the 2012
season. The names are drawn from a pre-made
list for that year, which is recycled every six
years (the 2012 list will be used again in
Other interesting facts:
-there are different name lists for each
tropical storm basin (Atlantic, Eastern North
Pacific, Central North Pacific, etc.)
-if a storm is especially damaging to society,
its name gets 'retired', and no future storm
will bear its name.
-hurricanes used to be named after the
particular saint's day upon which it occurred
(e.g. Santa Ana, San Felipe, San Juan, etc.)
-up until 1978, all storms were given women's
The website for the National Hurricane Center
has a table showing the
names of future storms through 2017 here:
boutnames for hurricanes
And the list of retired hurricane names here:
Hope that helps!
Funny thing actually, because they have a
list of 126 names and they cycle through 21
names per year. The first tropical storm that
year gets the "A" name, the second gets a "B"
name, and on it goes. If they have more than 21
tropical storms in a year, they just use Greek
letters (alpha, beta, gamma). As with many
things, it remains because of tradition that
just stuck with us. It originally started
because remembering technical names and
coordinates was difficult, so people just
started giving them names.
Hurricanes in the Atlantic are named by the
National Hurricane Center. They can't pick just
any name, though--it has to come from a special
list that is already decided before the storms
even begin. This list and lists of names for
tropical storms, hurricanes, cyclones and
typhoons all over the world are kept by the
World Meteorological Organization.
This year in the Atlantic there have been
tropical storms and hurricanes called Alberto,
Beryl, Chris, Debby, Ernesto, Florence, Helene,
Gordon, Isaac (like you said!), Joyce, Kirk and
Leslie. Do you notice a pattern here? These
names are in alphabetical order, which is done
on purpose. The list of possible names goes in
alphabetical order, and each new storm gets the
next name on the list. If you read about two
hurricanes in the same year, you can tell which
one started first by looking at the first letter
of their names. Isaac started before Joyce but
In other parts of the world, storms and get
names that are usual in those regions. For
example, in the South China Sea there was a
tropical storm called Pakhar that began in
March, and in the Indian Ocean, near Indonesia,
there was a cyclone called Anggrek that began
That's a really interesting question! I
actually had no idea until I researched the
According to the World Meteorological
Organization, hurricanes are given common names
because it is thought that they are more
recognizable and easier to remember than
technical names and numbers storm-naming.
Lists of hurricane names are generated by
committees for each of 5 geographic hurricane
regions. Isaac belongs to the Caribbean Sea,
Gulf of Mexico, and North Atlantic region.
There are 21 names for each of six years, and
the lists are recycled. For example, the list of
names used for 2012 will be reused again in
2018. Isaac is the ninth name on the 2012 list.
I'm not really sure why this name was selected.
An interesting activity for you to do would be
to look up how many tropical storms and
hurricanes have started in our region this year,
even if they haven't developed into large storms
that are newsworthy. Maybe Isaac was number
Good place to find this information are the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
website (noaa.gov) or the website that I cited
Thanks for the interesting question! I
learned some neat information!
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration has a great website here:
Essentially, the World Meteorological
Organization created a list of names in 1953,
and depending on the year, depends on the list.
They cycle the lists every six years, and start
with an A name, and go to a Z name. Each part of
the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans has its own
list. If a hurricane is so devastating that it
would be inappropriate to re-use, they strike it
from the list, and a new one replaces it. For
Example, Hurricane Katrina (2005) has been
replaced with Katia. Each individual storm that
gets classified as a tropical storm gets a name.
The first one of the year is given the A name,
and continues down the list. The lists change
gender every year - therefore next year all the
names will be female. Since Isaac is the ninth
storm of the year, it is named with the ninth
letter of the alphabet.
Tropical storms are named by the branch of
the U.S. government that deals with weather and
atmospheric science, originally the United
States Weather Bureau, then later the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. They use
a list of names that run in alphabetical order,
so "Alice", then "Bob", then "Carl",
then "Diane", and so on. The letters of the
Greek alphabet is used in particularly intense
hurricane seasons in which the Roman alphabet is
exhausted. The list is changed year-to-year, but
always has the same basic format, with names of
storms eventually being recycled. Particularly
exceptional or noteworthy hurricanes (e.g.
Camile, Gilbert, Andrew, Katrina) have their
names removed from the recycling list so that
new storms are not confused with historical
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