- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 6, 2002

What's in a name? When it comes to hurricanes, plenty. Many people probably know that hurricanes are named alphabetically each season, starting with the letter A this summer's first Atlantic hurricane will be named Arthur. Many also know that after decades of using only women's names for hurricanes, the National Hurricane Center in 1979 began alternating them with men's names.
Many people may not know, however, that the practice of naming hurricanes dates back hundreds of years. In his 1938 book "Hurricanes," weather historian Ivan R. Tannehill noted that people in the West Indies named hurricanes after the patron saint on whose day a hurricane hit. He cited Hurricane Santa Ana, which hit Puerto Rico in 1825, and two hurricanes named San Felipe, which visited the island on Sept. 13 in 1876 and 1928.
In his book, Mr. Tannehill credited the practice of naming hurricanes after women to an Australian meteorologist named Clement Wragge, who started it toward the end of the 1800s. A 1941 novel, "Storm," by George R. Stewart, featured a woman's name for a hurricane, and the practice was picked up during World War II by Air Force and Navy meteorologists tracking storms over the entire Pacific Ocean.
National weather services formally started the practice of using women's names for hurricanes in the 1950s.
The World Meteorological Organization, a U.N. organization based in Switzerland, maintains the list of hurricane names for eight cyclone-prone areas of the world. The Atlantic region is allotted six lists of 21 names each (one for every letter of the alphabet except Q, U, X, Y and Z); the Atlantic lists rotate every six years. In other words, even now we know that the seventh hurricane of 2004 will be named Gaston. Last year's list will be used again in 2007, and this year's list will be used in 2008.
Interestingly, hurricane names can be "retired" just like a famous athlete's jersey number. If a storm proves costly or deadly enough, any country affected by it can request that its name be retired by the WMO. Technically, the name is "retired" for 10 years only, usually to help avoid problems with lawsuits, insurance claims or historical references.
In the Atlantic Ocean, 37 hurricane names have been retired, including Camille (1969), Hugo (1989) and Andrew (1992), all of which were among the costliest or deadliest hurricanes in U.S. history.
Mark Stewart

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