It’s that time of year when coastal residents keep gasoline in their automobiles, ice in their freezers, and their eyes on named storms. When a storm gets a name, our attention status rises.
Hurricanes are most active from June to November; however, it seems the most memorable hurricanes to hit the Gulf Coast happened in August and September. Betsy made landfall in September 1965, Camille in August 1969, Frederic in September 1979, Elena in September 1985, and Katrina in August 2005. All those storms were named using less than the first half of the alphabet. 2020 was a year to remember in more ways than one including a worldwide pandemic and the exhaustion of regular hurricane names requiring dipping into the Greek alphabet. That year Hurricane Zeta hit in October.
While meteorologists understand latitude and longitude talk, the general public can find that language confusing. Naming tropical cyclones helps promote clearer communication and avoid confusion when issuing storm advisories. For several hundred years many hurricanes in the West Indies were named after the particular saint’s day on which the hurricane occurred. For a while, they were named with a phonetic alphabet. The practice of naming storms after women started in 1953. In 1978 storm naming changed to include the men. Every other year “A” is a female name. Male “A” letter names are used the alternate years. The source of this hurricane naming information is the website of the National Weather Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Six lists of names exist and are maintained and updated through a strict procedure by an international committee of the World Meteorological Organization. The names are recycled every six years. For example, the 2023 list will be used again in 2029. There are separate lists for Atlantic storms and Pacific storms. Interestingly, Atlantic storm names skip the letters Q, U, X and Y; the list of names reserved for Pacific storms only skips the letters Q and U.
When a hurricane season exhausts its English alphabetic names, the Greek alphabet names subsequent storms. The practice of using Greek names ended in 2020, and an auxiliary list of names has been assigned.
Names are retired for sensitivity reasons for horrid storms which do so much damage that a repeat of their names might cause anxiety. As of this past March, 96 names have been retired including ones familiar to Mississippians such as Betsy, Camille, Elena, Frederic, and Katrina.
The 2023 hurricane names are Arlene, Bret, Cindy, Don, Emily, Franklin, Gert, Harold, Idalia, Jose, Katia, Lee, Margot, Nigel, Ophelia, Philippe, Rina, Sean, Tammy, Vince, and Whitney. In 2017, the names Harvey, Irma, Maria, and Nate were retired from the master list. Those names were replaced with Harold, Idalia, Margot, and Nigel.
As this piece is being written prior to press time, Tropical Storm Emily has been named, and the sixth tropical storm is brewing in the Atlantic which could presumably turn into Franklin. My car has gas; tomorrow I’ll pick up a bag of ice on the way home from work.