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Harvey And Irma: This Is How Hurricanes Get Their Names

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Harvey And Irma: This Is How Hurricanes Get Their Names

The late summer news has been dominated by hurricanes in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico: first there was Hurricane Harvey, which caused devastating flooding in the US city of Houston, Texas, and now Hurricane Irma has wheeled through the Caribbean and will strike Florida over the weekend.

One of the questions that have arisen has concerned the naming of the hurricanes. Why Harvey? Why Irma?

The task of naming the storms falls upon the World Meteorological Organisation, the highest authority of weather experts in the world, who meet on a regular basis to discuss the patterns of weather and the effects that extreme weather have.

They have created zones in which regional organisations under their auspices pick the names: Atlantic hurricanes such as Harvey and Irma are named by the United States National Hurricane Center.

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Families are transported to higher ground during Hurricane Harvey (Credit: PA)

When they name hurricanes and tropical storms, they go through a list of accepted names, both male and female, before choosing one.

They begin at A as the hurricane season begins, working through the Latin alphabet. If there are more than 21 hurricanes in one season, they move on to the Greek alphabet. They alternate between male and female names while skipping the letters Q, U, Y and Z.

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Hurricane names can be retired if they are suitably catastrophic or destructive. Hurricane Mitch, the second deadliest Atlantic hurricane ever, killed over 10,000 people in Honduras and Nicaragua in 1998 and resulted in the name Mitch being taken from the register permanently. It was replaced by Matthew, though that again was retired after 2016's Hurricane Matthew which struck Haiti.

It is as yet unclear whether the names Harvey and Irma will end up retired.

Credit: PA

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Previously, hurricanes were named after the places where they struck - the Galveston hurricane of 1900, for example - or the day on which they occurred, usually using the Saints Day that was most appropriate, such as the Santa Ana hurricane that struck Puerto Rico in 1825.

It isn't always so serious: in Scotland in 2011, an extratropical cyclone (as hurricanes can be known in non-tropical areas) was named Friedhelm by weather authorities but was popularly known as Hurricane Bawbag after the Scottish dialect word for 'scrotum' or more idiomatically, for a coward.

While it was initially a joke trend on Twitter, it later was used by authorities and widely in the media, with politicians mentioning in Parliament

Featured Image Credit: PA

Topics: USA storm, Texas, Hurricane Irma, tornado, flooding, Storm

Mark McGowan

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