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How do tropical storms/hurricanes get their names?

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Superstorm Sandy
New York/Chennai, Oct 31: Superstorm Sandy has caused large-scale devastation across US. Now, cyclone Nilam is threatening to disrupt normal life in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh on Wednesday, Oct 31.

But have you ever wondered how tropical storms and hurricanes get their names? It is not just random selection and naming a cyclone/storm/hurricane. Lot of science is involved into it. Be it names like Aila, Phyan, Laila, Phet or Giri, cyclones that had hit India or infamous hurricane Katrina in US, giving names to cyclones/hurricanes is a big task for the scientific community.

The India Meteorological Department (IMD) says the practice of naming storms (tropical cyclones) was adopted years ago to help identify them so that people could be informed about their arrival quickly.

Hurricanes/storms have been named using a variety of systems. First, they were named after Catholic saints. Later on, the latitude-longitude positions of a storm's formation was used as a name. This was a little too cumbersome to use in conversation.

Why female names are widely used to brand hurricanes/storms? Military meteorologists started giving female names to storms during World War II and in 1950, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) adopted the method. The WMO devised a system of rotating, alphabetical names. (Names can be retired at WMO meetings by request from a nation that has been hit by the storm. The name is then not used for 10 years, which makes historic references and insurance claims easier.)

Male names too are used to tag storms/hurricanes: In the late-1970s, the system was given a dose of political correctness and male names were added to the Atlantic hurricanes list, as were French and Spanish names, reflecting the languages of the nations affected by the storms. (Back at a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) conference in 1972, Roxcy Bolton had proposed naming hurricanes after US Senators instead of women.)

Today, the WMO uses six lists of 21 names (Q, U, X, Y and Z names are not used) that it cycles through every six years, with the gender of the season's first storm alternating year to year, and genders alternating through the rest of the hurricane season. If there are more than 21 named storms in a year, as there were in 2005, the rest of the storms are named for letters in the Greek alphabet.

Occasionally, a storm suffers something of an identity crisis and has its name changed. This happens when a storm crosses from one ocean to another, or if it dies down and then redevelops.

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