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Why tropical storms and hurricanes used to be named after women

By Robert Abong'o | Feb 21st 2022 | 2 min read

People take pictures as waves break on during Storm Eunice, in Brighton, Britain, February 18, 2022. [Reuters, Peter Nicholls]

Storm Eunice, with record winds of up to 122 miles per hour continues to ravage the northern Atlantic, where it has so far killed at least 10 people.

It is the fifth named weather storm of the season, in the United Kingdom, after Arwen, Barra.  But how do storms get their names?

Danielle, Rina, Idalia, Katrina. These are some of the names bestowed upon tropical storms (hurricanes), as they wreak havoc in different parts of the globe.

Even though the naming spectrum has broadened over the years, between 1953 to around 1979, only women’s names were used.

In the 19th century, storms got their names based on a geographic location, the year they occurred, and their intensity.

Nowadays, they can get their name off anything…or anyone. The pursuit of a more naming system drove meteorologists to come up with an alphabetical list to identify and name storms.

 For example, a storm with A as the initial character (Anne) would become the first storm to occur in the calendar year.

https://womensmediacenter.com/ suggests weathermen in the past chose names of their ex-wives or girlfriends to invoke rage.

The names chosen, however, were “fraught with racism and sexism, personal preferences and vendettas,” according to Atlas Obscura.

The system came under severe scrutiny from female meteorologists and activists in the US, who were not impressed.

One Florida feminist Roxcy Bolton led campaigns to persuade the government to stop using female names. Bolton, who died in May 2017 said women deeply resented “being arbitrarily associated with disaster…’” According to History.com, several factors played part in weathermen’s decision to settle on a system of female names, which might have been brought about by the traditional nature of referring to the ocean as a woman.

At the latter stages of the 1900s, forecasters began using male names for storms developing in the Southern Hemisphere. Why name storms?

According to the World Meteorological Organisation, the naming practice was meant to help in the quick identification of storms in warning messages – due to the nature of the human brain to quickly remember a name than numbers or technical terms.

“Experience shows that the use of short, distinctive given names in written as well as spoken communications is quicker and less subject to error than the older more cumbersome latitude-longitude identification methods,” says the Worldmet.Org.

These names also help in exchanging detailed information between hundreds of broadly dispersed stations, ships at sea and coastal bases.

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