by David Murphy
There's a story I've read that an Australian forecaster began naming hurricanes after politicians he didn't like. Apparently, he got a kick out of saying things like, "Richard's at it again, ravaging the nation." He was eventually forced to change the practice (big surprise, huh?).
In the Atlantic Basin, our hurricane names are chosen by the World Meteorological Organization (an agency of the United Nations). The names alternate between male and female and make use of the three main languages spoken in the region where the storms strike (English, Spanish and French). The names are also grouped into six lists that rotate in sequence through the years. The only way a name can be retired is if its namesake's storm is so violent and causes so much damage that it needs to be noted independently for future reference. For example, there will never be another Katrina, because that name now forever refers to the catastrophic storm that battered the U.S. Gulf Coast in 2004. The names are alphabetical through W, when the letters of the Greek alphabet are added (Alpha, Beta, Gamma, etc.)
In other parts of the world, a different set of names is used, which in some rare instances, can lead to plenty of confusion. For example, if a storm crosses into the Pacific over Central America from the Gulf of Mexico, the same storm gets a new name. In fact, in the 1980s, one storm not only had a name change, it changed genders, too!