In the aftermath of Hurricane Idalia, some people are wondering, ‘Where do these names come from?’ The naming of tropical storms goes back several centuries, but it wasn’t until 1979 the current naming system was put in place.

There’s a long and drawn-out history of tropical names but we will hit some of the highlights:

  • 1800’s – The earliest evidence of named storms is found in Puerto Rico. Storms would be named after the saint of the day from the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar for the day the hurricane struck. There is also evidence of storms being named of places and things.
  • 1944 – During WWII, US servicemen based in Saipan named typhoons after their wives and girlfriends. They found this reduced confusion.
  • 1945 – US Armed Forces publicly adopted a list of women’s names for typhoons in the Pacific. They couldn’t convince the US Weather Bureau to do the same.
  • 1947 – The US Army/Navy adopted the phonetic alphabet for private use.
  • 1953 – Abandons plan on using the phonetic alphabet.
  • 1954 – Protests against using only women’s names begin.
  • 1978 – Practice of naming hurricanes solely women’s names ends.
  • 1979 – The current system of naming hurricanes after both men and women was adopted.

Currently, hurricanes are named in alphabetical order and there is a rotation of six lists.

For the Atlantic Basin, there is a list of 21 names. The list does not include Q, U, X, Y and Z. Every six years the names will repeat, unless a hurricane name has been retired.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) can decide to retire a name if the storm was abnormally costly or deadly. The list of names is left up to the WMO, not the National Hurricane Center.