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Weather Almanac for June 2000
NAME THAT STORM
June 1, 2000: the official opening of the 2000 Atlantic Hurricane Season. And eleventh on the list of Atlantic storm names this year is Keith. The pre-season forecast from the US National Hurricane Center predicts 11 named storms, of which seven should become hurricanes. So the possibility of reading that Hurricane Keith has reached force 12 for the first time is good.
The 2000 tropical storm year will also feature a new naming format for typhoons of the western Pacific Ocean. In previous years, these storms had a distinctive English flavour to their names. Beginning this year, however, storms will have names rooted in the many languages of the region. Names for the storms in this region have been contributed from 14 UNESCO member states of the Western North Pacific and South China Sea. Storm watchers will now prepare for Damrey, Longwang and Kirogi to name the list's first three. Not all the names are personal names. One selected name Kodo, means cloud in the native language of the Marshall Islands. Another is Higos, the word for fig in the Marianas Islands.
The first systematic naming of storms began in 1951 in the tropical North Atlantic basin using the radio phonetic alphabet. Able was the first hurricane to be named under this protocol when it reached hurricane force in August of that year. In 1953, the US Weather Bureau started the practice of using female names. The honor of the first official name went to Hurricane Alice which came to strength on May 25, 1953. Beginning in the 1979 season, both male and female names alternated assignment to new storms.
How it All Began
The naming of severe tropical storms is not new. Historical records of major storms striking the West Indies and Carribean show that the locals frequently referred to storms by the name of the saint whose day was closest to the occurrence of the storm. For example, Hurricane Santa Ana struck Puerto Rico with great devastation in July 1825.
Storms were often named after the fact by some particular catastrophe associated with them. The Rising Sun Hurricane of 1700 remembers the sinking of the Rising Sun and the 97 souls lost in the wreck. The destructive hurricane which struck Dominica in September 1834 became known as the Padre Ruiz Hurricane because the storm interrupted the funeral of the local priest.
Hurricanes were also named after places where they did greatest damage such as the Galveston Hurricane of 1900 or particular days such as the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935. The naming of severe tropical storms was not official nor consistent, however, until the middle of the 20th century. And most were named retrospectively to establish their place in history.
The use of personal names for storms appears to have its roots far from the tropical Atlantic Ocean. According to Ivan R. Tannehill's 1938 book Hurricanes, Clement Wragge, an Australian meteorologist began giving women's names to tropical storms before the end of the l9th century. Wragge also named severe non-tropical storms affecting Australia after men, usually local politicians he disliked. E.B. Buxton, a meteorologist with Pan American Airways in the late 1930s, had heard of Wragge's use of feminine names for the Australian willy-willies (as Australian hurricanes have been called) and adopted the practice for the airline's weather forecasts. Tannehill reported that Buxton later recalled using Chloe as one of the early names he used for tropical storms.
Perhaps, the naming of storms has its roots in George Stewart's 1941 best-seller, and now classic, weather novel Storm. In the story, the junior meteorologist gives each storm appearing on the maps he is plotting a name. The storm (though not a tropical storm) that is to dominate the story he christened Maria. Stewart notes in the book's introduction that he originally intended the name to be pronounced in the soft Spanish way with the second syllable being ree: Ma-ree-a. But he later realized that the storm Maria was "too big for any man to embrace and much too boisterous." He advises, "So put the accent on the second syllable, and pronounce it ‘rye'" (as in Ma-rye-a). A decade later, composers/lyricists Lerner and Loewe wrote a song for their musical Paint Your Wagon entitled They Call The Wind Maria, giving it Stewart's hard pronunciation.
Either Stewart's book or Buxton's charting practice may have given US military meteorologists forecasting in the Pacific Theater of World War II the inspiration to name storms. They did so in order to distinguish among the several tropical storms that might be raging at any one time in that great ocean. Their experience showed short, distinctive personal names were easier and quicker to understand in both written and spoken communications and less subject to error than the older more cumbersome use of latitude-longitude identification.
Following the war, the practice of naming hurricanes spread to the Atlantic basin as many of those military meteorologists moved into government weather services. The first unofficial record of a name given to an Atlantic hurricane by the US Weather Bureau came in September 1947 when the Hurricane George struck Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Then in 1949, the press jokingly dubbed the first hurricane of the season Hurricane Harry in "honor" of US President Harry Truman, who was addressing the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Miami at the time. Later that season, a larger storm developed, and the papers named it Hurricane Bess after the First Lady.
When aircraft reconnaissance of Atlantic storms began in 1944, reports identified them by latitude/longitude location. But September 1950 found three hurricanes raging simultaneously. Two were located in the Atlantic, one north of Bermuda and another north of Puerto Rico, and a third raged in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. As a result, there was confusion over which report referred to what storm. Designation by letter was no help as many letters sounded alike, particularly through the static-noise on radios. Numbers also did not provide a viable option as hurricane advisories were already numbered, and weather data and time were also reported as numbers.
In 1951, the agencies involved with Atlantic tropical storm forecasting, reconnaissance and warning agreed to identify each storm using the radio phonetic alphabet beginning with Able, Baker and Charlie and continuing in sequence until the season was over. This scheme worked well, and the public also began to use the names. The practice was continued in 1952, starting again with Able.
However, in that year a new international phonetic alphabet was introduced. Some of the agencies participating in hurricane surveillance used it while others continued with the older alphabet. As a result, some called the second storm of the season Baker while others called it Bravo. By the end of the year, no agreement had been reached on which version to use, resulting in much confusion.
In an attempt to reconcile these differences, a multi-agency conference was held to devise a workable plan during the Winter of 1953. Military representatives argued for the use of women's names, remembering it had worked successfully during the war in the Pacific. This convention finally was adopted, and the first list drawn up for the 1953 hurricane season:
The new naming scheme worked perfectly in 1953 as eight hurricanes developed in the Atlantic. Not only were the agencies involved pleased with the practice, but the public and media embraced it with delight. The newspapers thought it colorful. In addition, Canada and several countries in the south of the region began to use the names. As a result, the name list was repeated in 1954.
But not all were happy, particularly in 1954 when Hurricane Carol did extensive damage to Long Island and the southern New England coast. The New Bedford Times editorialized that it was not appropriate to give a nice name like Carol to a deadly and destructive monster storm. A New Orleans woman wrote the New Bedford editor that she would rather have her house destroyed by a nameless storm than run the risk of it being named after one of her husband's old girl friends! Others said that giving a hurricane a sweet girl's name gave the impression that it was not dangerous.
Later that year, Hurricane Hazel brought another flood of complaints as its rains flooded areas of US and Canada. As a result, the US Weather Bureau's National Hurricane Center (NHC), called another meeting with the Air Force, Navy and other interested parties to discuss the future of the naming scheme. Despite the flurry of complaints after Carol and Hazel, the majority of letters to the Bureau favored the practice, and they agreed to continue its use.
To avoid confusion with the storms of 1954, a number of which brought major damage to the East Coast that year, NHC forecasters decided to use new names each year. They drew up a new list for the 1955 season, Interestingly, it began with Brenda, because a rare, powerful storm arose in the Caribbean in January. Because the new list had not yet been finalized, this storm was again named Alice. The new list, therefore, omitted the first letter of the alphabet for 1955.
Beginning in 1960, four semi-permanent name sets were established, to be repeated after four years. This was expanded to ten sets in 1971, but before all names could be used, the system was again changed. The practice of using women's names exclusively begun in 1953 continued until 1978. But in 1978 several women's groups and several countries lobbied the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) to change the naming system.
As a result, the convention for naming storms was changed for 1979. The new sets alternated male and female names and mixed the "nationality" of the names. Names on the Atlantic lists were of now English, Spanish and French origin. A six-year rotation cycle for names was also instituted at this time. Because of the limited number of names for certain letters, several (Q, U, X, Y, Z) were dropped from the Atlantic basin lists, reducing them to 21 names each (the maximum number of Atlantic tropical storms observed was 21 in 1933, that is, until the record breaking season of 2005 when 28 storm were named). The WMO's Region 4 Hurricane Committee now maintains and updates the names set for the Atlantic Region as well as the other tropical storm basins around the globe.
As you might expect, names starting with the early letters of the alphabet have been the most repeated. The most popular names in the Atlantic -- with the same spelling -- are Arlene (eight storms), and Frances (seven storms). However, allowing for variations in spellings, Anna/Ana has been repeated nine times, and Debbie/Debby has been used on seven occasions. The first name to identify five storms was Edith, but that name has not been used since 1971.
Lili has the distinction of being the first L name to be used three times, and Marco the first M name to be repeated. Only in 1995 have hurricane names thus far passed the letter N. In that year Hurricane Opal (retired that year), Tropical Storm Pablo, Hurricane Roxanne (also retired), Tropical Storm Sebastien and Hurricane Tanya all formed, bringing the year's total number to 19.
After the record-breaking 2005 Atlantic Hurricane Season depleted the list of 21 names, the remaining storms were hastely named using the Greek alphabet. Thus, Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Epsilon and Zeta followed Wilma. (If you are doing the math, one tropical depression was later upgraded to a tropical storm but received no name.) Following that season, the WMO's Region 4 Hurricane Committee agreed to continue the use of the Greek alphabet should all names be utilized in any future season.
The first Atlantic hurricane name ever retired was Carol, which first struck North Carolina and then turned north to blast New York and parts of New England in 1954. Two additional storm names were also retire that year: Edna, which also hit North Carolina; and Hazel, which struck the Antilles, Haiti and the Bahamas, before coming ashore in the Carolinas to bring flooding as far north as New York State and Ontario, Canada.2005 had five names retired:
Four times, three names have been withdrawn in the same year.
Sixty-seven names have been retire in the Atlantic to date (2006). (For a list of retired names of Atlantic hurricanes, click here.)
In reality, the current practice on retiring names given by the World Meteorological Organization has specific rules. Whenever a hurricane has had a major impact, any country affected by the storm can request that the name be retired. Retirement of a name actually means that it cannot be reused for at least 10 years. This is to facilitate historic references, legal actions, insurance claim activities, etc. and to avoid public confusion with another storm of the same name. When a name is retired today, it is replaced in the rotation with a name of the same gender.
Outside The Atlantic Basin
Of course, the Atlantic Basin is not the only region visited by large tropical storms. Other tropical storm basins are:
The naming of Pacific tropical storms began in 1945 when female names were given to typhoons in the northwest Pacific Basin. As with the Atlantic, female names were used exclusively until 1979 when both male and female names began to alternate.
The naming of eastern North Pacific tropical storms and hurricanes starting in 1959 for storms approaching Hawaii and in 1960 for the remainder of the region. Since 1978, the list included both men's and women's names.
The Australian and South Pacific region (east of 90 deg E, south of the equator) started naming cyclones with women's names in 1964 and both men's and women's names in 1974/1975.
Naming of Southwest Indian Ocean tropical cyclones began during the 1960/1961 season. North Indian Ocean tropical cyclones remained unnamed until 2004, being distinguished by number prior to that year.
Addendum added November 2007
The method of assigning names varies slightly from basin to basin. For example, tropical storms in the Atlantic and the Eastern Pacific basins are assigned an A name to the first storm of each year, and names are repeated every six years. In contrast, other basins such as Central Pacific basin and the North Indian Ocean basin, the next name on the list is taken until the list is exhausted. When a new season begins, the first name will be the one following the last name used the previous season. When a list is exhausted, the first entry of the next list is used. When the full set is finally completed, the naming begins again at the top of the first list.
The new Western North Pacific set contains five lists. Each list contains 28 names, two contributed by each of fourteen nations in the basin. The full cycle of 140 names will be used in the given sequence before being repeated.
Finally, if a storm should wander from one basin into another it will be given a new name appropriate for that region.
The first time Keith came onto the Atlantic assignment list was 1988. A late season tropical storm formed on November 17, and Tropical Storm Keith had a week of life, its winds peaking just short of hurricane force. The last time Keith appeared on the official Atlantic hurricane name list was in 1994, but the number of named storms that year only reached seven. I await my namesake storm to be born this year and hope it reaches hurricane force. But I also hope that it is all fuss and fury, raging safely out at sea and causing no property damage or human casualties.
Update: October 2, 2000
Tropical Depression 15 became Hurricane Keith on 30 September 2000. It currently spins just over the Belize coastline just south of the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, having peaked at a Category 4 storm with winds of over 135 mph.
Update: July 2007
Hurricane Keith turned out to be a big storm, mainly affecting Belize, Nicaragua,and Mexico. When it hit the Belize coast as a Category 3 storm, it diminished in wind speed but not in impact. Its torrential rains reportedly dumped up to 829.8 mm (32.7 inches) on Belize City's international airport. The resultant flooding directly affected around 6600 households, totaling more than 26,000 individuals and more than 10% of the population. The estimated damage in Belize at the time exceeded $261.5 million. In Mexico, days of torrential rains, forced more than 30,000 to flee their homes. The final official number of fatalities attributed to Keith was 24. Belize suffered 5 deaths, Nicaragua reported a death toll of 12 people, six died in Honduras, and one in Mexico. Local sources immediately after the storm had reported 23 people dead in Mexico and one fatality in El Salvador. Based on these impacts, Keith was retired from the Atlantic name list.
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