No, they are not.
Did anybody read about cyclone Winston that battered the tiny islands of Fiji over the last month? No?
Well, we’re not surprised. It started on 7th February 2016 and dissipated only on March 3rd. It was the strongest tropical cyclone to make landfall over Fiji and the aftermath is devastating. It is very difficult to keep a track of cyclones and hurricanes when tornadoes of the likes of Kanhaiya and Donald Trump are spinning your world around.
This is not about the cyclones themselves but about how these devastating natural phenomena get their names. Such eccentricity, huh! Remember hurricane, Katrina?
Of course, you do.
All of us remember the devastation Hurricane Katrina caused when it hit New Orleans. But what’s more interesting (not that devastation is interesting, or anything like that) is its name, Katrina. I could only relate it to Bollywood actress Katrina Kaif, and thus could not help but wonder if hurricane Katrina was as glamorous as Katrina Kaif. But sadly, it wasn’t.
So what is it with cyclones and their names? How do they get these names? Who maintains them? And what’s the difference between cyclones, hurricanes, typhoons?
To begin with; hurricanes, cyclones, typhoons are all the same thing.
The only difference is where they occur. Hurricanes are found in the West Atlantic Ocean, cyclones in the tropical ocean, except for Southeast Pacific and South Atlantic, whereas typhoons are found in the West Pacific ocean.
Technically, all hurricanes can be cyclones but not all cyclones are hurricanes. If the wind speed is more than 74 miles/hour or 119 km/h (in non-retarded units) they are hurricanes, otherwise they are just tropical storms or cyclones.
We assign names to anything because it helps us in easy identification and names are easier to understand and remember than numbers or technical terms. The practice of naming cyclones also started this.
It made it easier for issuing warnings and alerts and bring attention to the public and help them prepare in case of storms.
Easy, short, distinctive, and pronounceable names not only help in quicker communication and retaining information but are less prone to errors than the traditional and cumbersome method of reporting via latitudes and longitudes.
The practice started during the 1900s in order to quickly identify the storms and these names helped in transmitting warning messages and propagating the weather forecasts and other related information across several weather stations and to the general public across the world.
At first, the naming was very arbitrary. An Atlantic storm that ripped off the mast of a boat named Antje became known as Antje’s hurricane. Prior to that, for hundreds of years, hurricanes in the West Indies were named after a particular saint’s day on which the hurricane occurred. For e.g. there was Hurricane Santa Ana which struck Puerto Rico in 1825 A.D
The first use of the proper name was by an Australian forecaster during the early 20th century. He named the cyclones after political figures he disliked. The mid-1900s saw the start of the practice of using famine names for storms.
During World War 2, tropical cyclones were given women’s names by US Army and Navy meteorologists after their girlfriend or wives. An early example of the use of a woman’s name for a storm was in the novel Storm by George R. Stewart, published in 1941, it’s also been filmed by Walt Disney.
The practice of naming hurricanes solely after women came to an end during late 1970s when masculine and feminine names were included in the Eastern North Pacific, Atlantic, and Gulf of Mexico storm lists.
A variety of naming systems have been used. But these names are not according to any preference. The names selected are those that are familiar with the region. It’s pretty obvious, as the main purpose of using the name is to create awareness among people and to prepare for disasters. Cyclones are named in a systematic procedure and this lies with the international committee of the World Meteorological Organisation.
There are different hurricane regions monitored by respective hurricane centers like the Atlantic, North Pacific, Eastern North Pacific, Northern Indian ocean, Australian, and a few others. There are eight northern Indian ocean countries that have prepared a list of 64 names. These countries are Bangladesh, India, the Maldives, Myanmar, Oman, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Thailand.
The next cyclone to hit the north Indian ocean region will be named Thane, a name given by Myanmar, and after that Murjan by Oman.
These countries take turns in naming the cyclones. The names are used sequentially and once only. The Chennai floods were due to low pressure in the Bay of Bengal created by cyclone Roanu, named by the Maldives.
The previous one was Megh named by India and the next one KyK Bay of Bengal region would be cyclone Kyant named by Myanmar. Remember cyclone Hudhud that pounded Andhra Pradesh in 2014? It was named by Oman and ‘Hudhud’ was named after Israel’s national bird.
Generally, the names have to be concise and easy to be used. Understood well enough and must not be culturally sensitive. They must not be inflammatory and definitely no room for misunderstanding.
The Atlantic Region cyclones are generally named after masculine and feminine names. It has a six-year supply of names with 21 names each year. Why 21?
Because letters Q, U, X, Y, and Z are not used as it’s tough to find 3 male and 3 female names with these letters. Few names are retired, meaning they will not be used again. Such a proposal is generally made by the country which was affected, as a mark of respect for the victims.
And what happens if the cyclone crosses from one region to another? The names are simply retained.
If you want to suggest the name of a cyclone to be included in the list, it must meet the criteria. The name should be short and readily understood when broadcast, sensitive to region and culture, and not be inflammatory or insensitive.
The proposed name can be sent to the Director-General of Meteorology, India Meteorological Department, for consideration.