By Holly Henderson
It’s a passing conversation that I’ve had with a number of people over the years, but one where we have always made a couple of assumptions and moved on, never actually looking it up.
Today I found out that the way that hurricanes get their names is chosen by the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organisation, who selects their names from a list that is recycled every six years. The only times that a name is removed from the list is if it has caused serious destruction.
But this was a method that had evolved after hundreds of years of trial and error.
For hundreds of years, Caribbean islanders, who often encountered these storms, would name them after saints. But at this point storm naming was random and would also be named after the events of the storm.
At the end of the 19th century Clement Wragge, who was an Australian forecaster, tried to create a system, naming storms after the letters of the Greek alphabet. When the Australian government refused to accept his method, he decided to change his system, naming storms after politicians instead.
Which then let him describe politicians as ‘creating great distress’ or ‘wandering aimlessly about the Pacific’. This new system was sadly met with resistance.
The way that we name hurricanes today all began in 1950 when storms were called after the first phonetic alphabet then used by the American servicemen (able, baker, Charlie). The names were short and easy to say and write.
But only two years later, in 1952, a new international phonetic alphabet was adopted (Alpha, Beta, Charlie, etc..) which then made the whole system confusing.
So following naval meteorologists who named storms after their wives, the American National Hurricane Centre began using female names, which for a short time was popular. The media were thrilled to be describing ‘Tempestuous’ female hurricanes, ‘teasing’ and ‘flirting’ with the coastline.
In 1978, Women’s-right activist campaign and won against this method and ever since storms have been named alternating between both sexes.
But Apparently, the names given to each storm matters more than you’d expect. In 2014 researchers found that hurricanes with more feminine names killed more people than those with masculines names. This has nothing to do with their threat, as the names are randomly selected, but rather the way people react to them. It has been recorded that apparently tropical storms with female names are taken less seriously than those with male names…