Uh oh. It’s only September and weather watchers are running out of hurricane names. Yet three new storms are brewing as Florida and Texas struggle to recover from hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
Last week the National Hurricane Center (NHC) showed Hurricane Jose seething in the Caribbean with gusting winds of up to 80 mph. Jose thankfully missed Florida by hundreds of miles and got downgraded to a tropical storm on Thursday morning. But on Friday, the wind picked up again. As of Sunday evening, the storm was heading north to menace North Carolina and work its way up the east coast toward New England.
Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Lee had weather watchers worried, but failed to gain momentum and got downgraded to a tropical depression. But before you heave a sigh of relief, brace yourself for Hurricane Maria. Sunday morning, The Times-Picayune announced the tropical storm was “expected to strengthen into a major hurricane by midweek as it approaches Caribbean islands traumatized by Hurricane Irma.”
And sure enough, USA Today reported late Sunday afternoon that Maria had metastasized into a Category 1 hurricane with 75 mph winds, and has the Caribbean in its sights. Antigua, Barbuda, St. Kitts, Nevis, and Montserrat, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the British Virgin Islands are now all on hurricane watch. Meanwhile, forecasters warn that Dominica and Guadeloupe will likely face a Category 2 hurricane with winds of 96-110 mph on Monday night. Puerto Rico is also likely to take a fresh battering, and then Maria could very well hit Florida.
Here’s a video from Weather Nation with Hurricane Maria’s likely path.
Meanwhile, people along the northeastern seaboard are on the lookout for Hurricane Jose.
And as if all that isn’t scary enough, watch out for hurricanes Norma and Otis.
Things are getting a bit crazy in the Pacific Ocean as well. NBC 5 reports Hurricane Norma is heading toward Mexico’s southern Baja California Peninsula. Luckily, Norma has since dwindled into a tropical storm. But tropical storms are not trivial. The resort towns of Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo could get smacked with 65 mph winds when the storm arrives late Sunday, or in the wee hours of Monday morning. Just two weeks ago, Tropical Storm Lidia caused floods and at least four deaths in the area. Needless to say, the local government has set up storm shelters and canceled a military parade in La Paz in honor of Mexican Independence Day. The Los Angeles Times also reminds readers that less than two weeks ago, Mexico’s east coast got hit by Hurricane Katia and was then flattened by a devastating earthquake.
Meanwhile, after days of churning in the Pacific Ocean, a tropical storm named Otis abruptly morphed into a Category 2 hurricane, according to the NHC. However, as the Met Office (short for Meteorological Office, the UK’s weather agency) assures, Hurricane Otis won’t do much damage because it’s too far from land.
How Do Hurricanes Get Their Names?
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s Hurricane Research Division explains that the word “hurricane” derives from the Mayan creator god Hurakan, who “blew his breath across the Chaotic water and brought forth dry land and later destroyed the men of wood with a great storm and flood.” Reuters adds the Island Caribs of the Lesser Antilles islands gave these storms the name “Hurican,” their god of evil. The Spanish picked up on the name and we wound up adopting it as well.
The venerable Old Farmer’s Almanac goes on to explain that hurricane names are chosen by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The names cycle every six years and the ones for the most devastating storms — like Hurricane Katrina — are retired and never get used again. Hurricanes and storms used to be named after women, but now the WMO alternates between women’s and men’s names.
As with many things in modern life, the naming system for storms began after World War II. Dan Kottlowski, a senior meteorologist at Accuweather, explained the U.S. military began naming storms in order to study them.
“During World War II it became highly noticed that [the United States] was losing ships in the West Pacific because of hurricanes. So, coming out of the war, a large amount of research took place to understand these storms and make people more aware of them. As a part of that project, [the military] started naming them.”
At first, the names came from the phonetic alphabet used by the U.S. military, as shown in the poster below.
But in 1979, the WMO began using human names to standardize the process and help with public awareness.
“Hurricanes occurring in the Atlantic basin are named based upon six, alphabetized, 21-name lists (Q, U, X, Y and Z are all skipped). The lists cycle on a six-year rotation, so every seventh year, the process reverts back to the first list.”
What happens when there are more than 21 storms? Authorities start naming hurricanes after the letters of the Greek alphabet.
The WMO uses the same system for storms in the Eastern Pacific ocean, but the list has 24 names because only Q and U get dropped. Storms in the Central-North Pacific basin are named according to four, 12-name lists.
Storms only get names when they hit tropical storm level with sustained winds of 39 mph. After a storm shows sustained winds of more than 73 mph, it gets upgraded to a hurricane.
Last Tuesday, WWLTV‘s meteorologist, Alexandra Cranford, tweeted a list of this year’s hurricane names. Even without Hurricanes Lee, Maria, Nate, and Otis crossed out, the list of remaining names is noticeably short.
Yet 2017’s hurricane season still hasn’t caught up to 2005, the most active hurricane season on record. As WFAA’s meteorologist notes, there were so many storms all the names were used up and the WMO had to use Greek letters for the remaining six storms.
Most active Atlantic Hurricane Season on record? 2005. Greek letters were used to name last 6 storms since English names had all been used. pic.twitter.com/4yqAazUOFA— Pete Delkus (@wfaaweather) September 17, 2017
The WMO’s 2017 hurricane names are as follows: Arlene, Bret, Cindy, Don, Emily, Franklin, Gert, Harvey, Irma, Jose, Katia, Lee, Maria, Nate, Ophelia, Philippe, Rina, Sean, Tammy, Vince, and Whitney.
[Featured Image by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images| Cropped and resized]