How Exactly Are Hurricane Names Chosen?
Nope, it's not random—they are decided years in advance. Learn how hurricanes are named, and who gets to name them.
Katrina. Harvey. Sandy. Each of these hurricane names conjures images of high winds and heavy rains. In 2022, we’ve seen hurricanes Danielle, Earl, Fiona, Ian and Julia make landfall. But how are these hurricanes actually named?
If you live in a hurricane-prone area, this might not be your top priority question. After all, knowing how to prepare for a hurricane, how to prepare for a tornado, what a wildfire is or even how dangerous the strongest hurricanes ever have been can keep you and your family protected, from disasters of any kind—cyclones and hurricanes alike. But with preparedness checked off the list, you can worry about less pressing questions, like naming. So how do they actually name hurricanes?
How are hurricanes named?
Originally, hurricanes were named after the saint’s day when the storm hit. For instance, there have been two Hurricane San Felipes in Puerto Rico—one on Sept. 13, 1876, and another on that same date in 1928.
But by the 1900s, an Australian meteorologist started a new system. Instead of creating hurricane names based on saints, he used women’s names. The United States followed suit in 1953. And by 1979, men’s hurricane names were added to the mix.
Who names hurricanes?
Unsurprisingly, meteorologists name hurricanes. The World Meteorological Organization has six different lists—each with 21 names, one for every letter except Q, U, X, Y and Z—that they cycle through for hurricanes in the Atlantic.
So how are hurricanes named on the West Coast? Their names come from another set of six lists—which include every letter except Q and U. Once six years go by, the naming starts again with the first list.
The lists of hurricane names change only if there’s a particularly bad storm. So you won’t be seeing another Hurricane Katrina or Sandy in the future. The World Meteorological Organization decides which names to take off the lists during its annual meeting. Recently retired names include Florence and Michael.
What are hurricane names for 2022?
This year has already brought us hurricanes Danielle, Earl, Fiona, Ian and Julia. If you notice names missing in the alphabetical order–like G and H—that’s because those storms were named but didn’t rise to hurricane level. Gaston and Hermine, for example, were both tropical storms, which are less severe than a hurricane. Learn about the differences between a typhoon vs. a hurricane.
These are the Atlantic storms you can expect to see next in 2022:
But how are hurricanes named if there are more than 21 storms (or 24 in the Pacific)? After all, NOAA anticipates above-average hurricane activity this year. If this happens, then the rest of the names will come from the Greek alphabet, starting with Alpha and ending with Omega.
Next, read on to find out what happens to birds during a hurricane and what to do when the power goes out.
Additional reporting by Marissa Laliberte.
- National Hurricane Center and Central Pacific Hurricane Center: “Tropical Cyclone Naming History and Retired Names“
- National Hurricane Center and Central Pacific Hurricane Center: “Tropical Cyclone Names“