How Do Hurricanes Get Their Names?

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Composition with photo via NASA Goddard Photo and Video on Flickr under a Creative Commons license

Each year, during hurricane season, the first names of anonymous people grace our weather reports, while the latest forecasts come in to inform us how severe rainfall and wind may affect our lives. With Isaac headlining this 2012 Atlantic season, just as Irene did in 2011, these named storms are not something to be taken lightly. We all know how devastating Katrina was in 2005.

But how do these tropical storms and hurricanes get their names? You probably know they are all first names that go in boy-girl order, and in order of the alphabet as the season goes forward each year. But is it possible that you or I could name one of these massive storms? And more importantly, is it possible that there might be a “Hurricane Gozer” — named after the androgynous destructive god in the blockbuster supernatural science comedy Ghostbusters — for the next hurricane starting with the letter G? After all, Gozer can be “whatever it wants to be,” may it be a destructive hundred-foot marshmallow man, or a mass of turbulent storm clouds.

If the folks who started the site HurricaneGozer.com have anything to do with it (full disclosure: one of them is me), then popular opinion might sway the meteorologists who do in fact, have the honor and privilege of naming the next storm. However, it’s not that easy, as the names of the tropical storms/hurricanes for the next six years have already been determined after a consensus of one of five meteorolgical committees, according to the World Meteorological Organization.

The names for storms of the north Atlantic, set in stone for the next six years, are as follows:

Source: World Meteorological Organization

You might think that perhaps in 2018, there might be a chance that “Gozer” might have a chance to be the name of a hurricane, but the six lists actually go in rotation after that. In 2018, the list the same as in 2012.

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What determines the name anyway? And why do we give these storms names in the first place? There’s a strict policy on what they will be. According to the World Meteorological Organization:

It is important to note that tropical cyclones/hurricanes are named neither after any particular person, nor with any preference in alphabetical sequence. The tropical cyclone/hurricane names selected are those that are familiar to the people in each region. Obviously, the main purpose of naming a tropical cyclone/hurricane is basically for people easily to understand and remember the tropical cyclone/hurricane in a region, thus to facilitate tropical cyclone/hurricane disaster risk awareness, preparedness, management and reduction.

So is there any hope for a “Hurricane Gozer?” Well, a new name can enter the mix only of one particular storm has proved to be so destructive that it’s one for the history books, never to be used again — which subsequently calls for a replacement name. For example, “Katia” replaced “Katrina” on the 2005/2011/2017 list. So unless Gordon, Gabrielle, Gonzalo, Grace, Gaston, or Gert are so destructive that any of them are selected to be replaced, “Gozer” won’t be considered.

Of course, I’m not hoping for any tragedies to come out of the natural disaster of a hurricane, just so “Gozer” can enter the name list. However, if by any chance the time came for a new “G” hurricane, I’d hope “Gozer” would be first on the list; it’s an androgynous name after all, and could go either way. In the meantime, Ghostbusters fans can always like the Facebook fan page linked off of HurricaneGozer.com in hopes that anyone from the tropical storm naming committees out there are reading this.

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