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ORLANDO, Fla. – By the time a hurricane is born, it most likely already has a name. In fact, storms are named as soon as their sustained wind speeds reach 39 mph, in other words, when they reach tropical storm status.


The practice of naming storms in the northern Atlantic Ocean started in 1959 by the National Hurricane Center, but the actual name lists are provided by the World Meteorological Organization based in Geneva. At first, only female names were used, but in 1979, male names were added to the list. Before 1959, the storms were given names based on a certain holiday it might have landed on or a region it affected. As you can imagine, name storms were left without a given name and unseen. After all, the first satellites were watching the tropics in the early 1960s.

Currently, there are eight naming institutions that handle each region in the world.

  • North Atlantic & Pacific – The National Hurricane Center (U.S.) handles the whole northern Atlantic Basin from the Caribbean to Europe.
  • Central Pacific – The Central Pacific Hurricane Center U.S.) handles the area north of the equator to 140ºW – 180º
  • Western Pacific – The Japan Meteorological Agency, PAGASA, handles the area from the equator to 60ºN, 180º-100ºE and 5ºN-21°N, 115°E – 135°E
  • North Indian Ocean – The Indian Meteorological Department handles the area from the equator northward, 100ºE – 45ºE
  • Southwest Indian Ocean – Mauritius Meteorological Services, Météo Madagascar and Météo France Reunion handles these areas, respectively: Equator – 40°S, 55°E – 90°E Equator – 40°S, African Coast – 55°E Equator – 40°S, African Coast – 90°E
  • Australian region – Indonesian Agency for Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics, Papua New Guinea National Weather Service, Australian Bureau of Meteorology handles these areas, respectively: Equator – 10°S, 90°E – 141°E Equator – 10°S, 141°E – 160°E 10°S – 36°S, 90°E – 160°E
  • Southern Pacific – Fiji Meteorological Service, Meteorological Service of New Zealand handles these areas, respectively: Equator – 25°S, 160°E – 120°W 25°S – 40°S, 160°E – 120°W
  • South Atlantic – Brazilian Navy Hydrographic Center handles from the equator to 35°S and from the Brazilian coast to 20°W
  • For the northern Atlantic Basin, there are six lists of names in rotation. Even-numbered years start with male names and odd-numbered years start with female names.

When is a name retired?

A hurricane doesn’t necessarily need to be a Category 3, 4 or 5 to be retired. The name is retired if a storm leaves major damage or deaths to avoid future confusion among the public. Since 1959, there have been 89 names retired. The most names retired in a single season was for the very active 2005 season. There have been 19 seasons without a name retired, and 2014 was the most recent. Names starting with the letter “I” have been the most retired, 19 in total, and 11 of those have occurred since 2001. Wilma has been the name retired with the latest letter in the alphabet.

Curious fact:

Every year the World Meteorological Organization meets for a week in the spring, which is usually when they announce any retired names from the previous hurricane season. The 2020 meeting was canceled due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Therefore, there won´t be any names retired from the 2019 season yet. The organization plans to meet again in spring 2021, and they will review the storms from 2019 before making a decision to retire names. This is when storms like “Dorian,” “Lorenzo” and “Imelda” will likely be retired.