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Where Do Storm Names Come From?

A flooded street after catastrophic Hurricane Irma hit Fort Lauderdale, FL
FotoKina/Shutterstock

From hurricanes to blizzards, some storms get individual names. Sometimes, they are named after people, and sometimes it’s all about “Snowmaggedon.” Have you ever wondered where the ideas for storm names come from and why?

Naming Hurricanes

The military started naming hurricanes after World War II, because of the ships they were losing to storms. At first, the names came from the military’s phonetic alphabet. Rather than sticking with names like Alpha, Bravo, and Charlie, the World Meteorological Organization decided to take over and use a system of human names.

The idea was to make naming hurricanes a more standard practice, and the names would be repeated once they got through the alphabet. The Atlantic Basin, the Eastern Pacific Basin, and the Central North Pacific Basin all acquire names a little bit differently.

In the Atlantic Basin, storm names come from 6 lists of names in alphabetical order that contain 21 letters of the alphabet. They don’t use Q, U, X, Y, or Z. The list allows for a 6-year cycle. If more than 21 storms occur in one hurricane season, the WMO uses the Greek alphabet to name the rest.

The Eastern Pacific Basin does things pretty much the same, but they use 24 letters of the alphabet. The only skipped letters are Q and U.

In the Central North Pacific Basin, they only have 4 lists of 12 names each. They still cycle through the list, but they start the next list whenever the previous one is finished.

So, that the list of storm names lasts throughout a complete hurricane season, and storms are only given a name once they prove they’re powerful. A tropical storm isn’t declared as a hurricane until it reaches maximum sustained winds of 74 mph, then it gets a name.

Hurricane names have sometimes been retired. Katrina had such a devastating impact on the United States that it is one of the retired names. Storm names attached to such deadly and costly outcomes are the only ones that get retired.

Naming Snow Storms

Snowstorms don’t usually get people’s names, but they do get some interesting monikers attached to them when they’re reported to be extra brutal.

Around 2012, the Weather Channel decided it was time to start giving snowstorms names. They started with Greek/Roman names, like Athena and Brutus, again going in alphabetical order. Nonetheless, social media seems to have had one of the biggest effects on the naming of blizzards. People online can be credited for coming up with names like Snotober, Snowpocalypse, and Snowmaggedon.

Local weather stations sometimes create their own winter storm names as there’s no standard practice. Buffalo weather stations have named their snowstorms after both snakes and insects.

Yvonne Glasgow Yvonne Glasgow
Yvonne Glasgow has been a professional writer for almost two decades. Yvonne has worked for nutritionists, start-ups, dating companies, SEO firms, newspapers, board game companies, and much more as a writer and editor. She's also a published poet and a short story writer. Read Full Bio »