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How do hurricanes get their names?

With Hurricane Irene recently hitting the United States and the Caribbean, one of the things you might wonder is 'why Irene'?  In fact, why name hurricanes at all? The simple answer is this: hurricanes are given names so that they are easier to refer to.  So, rather than having to remember a hurricane by region or longitude and latitude coordinates, we can simply make error free references by referring to them by name.

So who chooses their names and why?  To begin with, hurricanes were named after Catholic saints.  Later on, the latitude-longitude positions of a storm's foundation were used as a name.  Nowadays, hurricane names are sourced from a recycled alphabetised list of names which has a rotation of six years (the 2011 list will be recycled in 2017).  Originally these lists were maintained by the National Hurricane Centre (NHC), which then passed control to the World Meteorological Centre (WMO) in 1979.  In the same year, the system was given a spoonful of political correctness and male names were added to the list.  Before then, it was only female names that were used.   French and Spanish names were also added to reflect the languages of the nations affected by storms. 

There are six different lists which contain 21 different names (Q, U, X, Y and Z are not used).  The genders of each hurricane alternate throughout the season.  If there are more than 21 hurricanes in any one season (as was the case in 2005) then they are given names from the Greek alphabet (Alpha, Beta, Delta).

Sometimes, the name of a hurricane is changed.  This happens when a hurricane crosses from one ocean to another, or if it dies down and then redevelops.  In other cases, a name can be retired as an act of sensitivity.  For example, devastating hurricanes like Igor in 2010, 2008's Ike and Katrina in 2005, have all been retired as hurricane names due to the extreme damage caused in those years.

Very recently, on the 29th August, the second major hurricane of the season, Hurricane Katia, hit the Cape Verde Islands.  As ever, the risk sector will be doing its best to support the cleanup effort, which will begin with loss adjusters travelling to affected areas.  To find out more about the role of a loss adjuster click here.

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