- The Washington Times - Monday, August 28, 2006

Ernesto will have a little ethnic company in upcoming years. Humberto, Pablo and Cristobal are on future name rosters for hurricanes and tropical storms in the Atlantic — not to mention Chantal, Nana, Gaston, Omar and Henri.

“Over the years, the names started out primarily Anglo-Saxon for Atlantic hurricanes. Now they reflect the diversity of the affected regions, with names originating from English, Spanish, French and Dutch, primarily,” said Frank Lepore, spokesman for the Florida-based National Hurricane Center (NHC) yesterday.

Roughly a quarter of the 21 official names, which are assigned when weather patterns become tropical storms, have some international underpinnings. The practice has been in place since 1977, when a new “naming protocol” went into operation, Mr. Lepore said. Male names were alternated with female names, and the roster was tweaked to acknowledge other countries.

“There are seven hurricane regions. The United States is in Region 4. But there are 26 other countries within Region 4 alone, so another naming scheme was appropriate,” he said. “It’s not rocket science, but it is workable and fair.”

Generating names for tropical storms and hurricanes, typhoons and cyclones — which are the same types of storms, referred to differently based upon region — is a global practice. Master lists are compiled by the World Meteorological Organization, an office of the United Nations representing some 120 countries.

And to each his own, apparently. Lingling, Yanyan and Tingting are future typhoon monikers in China, for instance. Australians can look for hurricanes Warwick, Kirrily and Clancy, while India will one day face cyclones Gonu, Mukda and Ockhi. Things get succinct in the North Pacific, home to hurricanes Io, Lala and Li.

Still, even those regions mix it up. Dora, Clovis and Lindsay may one day make landfall in India while Ferdinand, Gretel and Bruno could come to call in Australia.

Storm naming has long been a work in progress. Centuries ago, they were named after saints, then regions or landmarks. By World War II, they were designated by longitude and latitude, but cumbersome numbers were misunderstood by officials and public alike. Weather forecasters began the practice of giving names in order by first letters — Able, Baker, Charlie — and then opted for women’s names in 1953.

Short, given names are “quicker and subject to less error,” current NHC guidelines state. And yes, citizens can suggest a new hurricane name to the agency, though Mr. Lepore says the file is already burgeoning.

Meanwhile, future names showcase a mix of both Yankee and global-themed designations. Patty, Joyce, Jerry and Teddy are just around the corner. But we can also look for Rafael, Olga, Sebastien, Rene and Gustav in the next two years. But try as they might, the NHC can’t please everyone.

“Yes, we get complaints. I got a call last year from a tearful woman who felt ‘Katrina’ was inappropriate, and that it has caused her daughter Katrina to be ostracized,” Mr. Lepore said. “We try and make the best of it, but sometimes you’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t on these things.”

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