Naming the guilty parties

As if the plethora of terms used to describe tropical storms weren't enough, the most significant storms are assigned their very own name too. But where do these names come from? Namer-in-chief is the World Meteorological Organization, which controls the lists of names. But local bodies such as the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration actually hand them out. There are six lists of names for hurricanes in the Atlantic. Before 1979 they were all female, but men were added in response to increasing feminist complaint.

The lists come round every six years, so the one from 2007 will be used again in 2013. But names are added and removed, and a name used for a highly damaging hurricane, especially one with a large loss of life, can be retired to avoid reviving bad memories. Examples include Andrew, a famously damaging hurricane from 1992. The names are kept simple, with the likes of Tommy and Wendy much in evidence. If you are called Gustavus-Adolphus, there will never be a hurricane named after you.

Similar systems are used to name storms in other parts of the world, and the practice clearly helps raise public awareness of the approaching danger, as well as making communications between professionals simpler too.