Andrew, Klaus, Hugo, Betsy, Bob, Hilda, Hortense.....
The list is as long as an oversized primary school class register, but these little darlings never kissed you goodbye or demanded expensive trainers.
What do they have in common?
Well, believe it or not, they are all retired hurricane names. Along with Gracie, Roxanne, Marilyn, Joan and Carmen, the likes of Hugo, Betsy and Bob have all in their day caused so much damage that the World’s Meteorological Organisations have, forever, retired their names from official lists of hurricane and tropical storm names.
What am I talking about? Monsters of destruction, like Hurricane Andrew which hit the Florida Peninsula in August 1992, moved into the Gulf of Mexico and up through the Louisiana coast.
Andrew was the most costly US storm on record with total losses of $26.5 billion, $1 billion of which was in Louisiana while the rest was in Florida. Winds gusted at over 175mph and had sustained strengths of 145mph. At least 180,000 people were left homeless, 126,000 homes destroyed or damaged, over 50 people killed as a direct or indirect effect of the storm and at least 10,400 injured.
How does something with such monstrous potential acquire such an innocuous name?
Well, lets go back to the beginning. Tropical cyclones, (or Tropical Storms) (wind speeds between 39mph and 74mph) or hurricanes (wind speeds of 75mph and above) form within seven regions around the world called ‘basins’.
As there can be 100 or so storms a year meteorologists need a means of identifying individual storms to avoid confusion, especially as one or more storms may be followed and charted simultaneously.
Early naming strategies were informal and individualistic in their approach. For several hundred years in the Caribbean, hurricanes were named after the saints day on which they occurred. For example "Hurricane San Felipe" struck Puerto Rico on 13 September 1876. Later, latitude and longitude were used, but this was found to be more complicated and more prone to error.
According to one report the first use of a proper name for a tropical storm was by an Australian forecaster in the early part of this century, who reputedly named his storms after politicians that he didn’t like. Maybe that’s an approach that deserves a come back.
During World War II however, it was loved ones who provided the inspiration for the name game. US Army Air Corp and Navy meteorologists affectionately christened storms with female names after their wives and loved ones - imagine, "Hurricane Hotlips hits Florida" or "Peaches has petered out in the Pacific"!
By 1950 the first formal name strategy was in place for North Atlantic cyclones. The storms took their names from the phonetic alphabet of the time (Able-Baker-Charlie-etc) and this continued until 1952. In 1953 the US Weather Bureau decided to switch to female first names and finally included male first names in the list in 1979.
The letters Q, U, X, Y, and Z are not used because of few names begin with these letters.
The naming of cyclones today continues in much the same vein. Each Basin or region has an agreed list of names - the applications of which vary slightly. for instance, cyclones in the Atlantic basin and in the Eastern Pacific give the first storm of each year an ‘A’ name. Whereas the year’s first cyclone in the Central Pacific takes the next name on the list regardless of which letter it starts with.
Of course, if a storm should wander from one basin region into another it will be rewarded with a new name from that region. There’s no wonder some of these storms are angry - they could have huge identity crises.