Sunday, October 13, 2013

How are cyclones named?

For past few days, cyclone Phailin has taken the center stage of NDTV news; my favorite news broadcast media. Report says, Cyclonic Storm ‘PHAILIN’ hit over Odisha/Orissa State on Saturday (5-10-2013) affecting communication lines, causing power disruptions and destroying properties, though no casualty reported so far due to accurate tracking and intensity prediction of the cyclone by the Indian metrological department and early evacuation of settlements from the red zones at the earliest.
As the news anchor took a short break from the breaking news bulletin with an assurance to see after a short while; I started comparing the Cyclone “Phailin” with year 2009’s cyclone “Aila”. And that thought motivated this post idea; why cyclones have different name? Who name’s it? How are cyclones named?
Until I took the pain of surfing net, thoughts remained around without a hint on what I myself asked a while ago. It was way too much for my blurred knowledge of Geography. Gust of ignorance perspired clouds of confusion.
Though nature doesn’t have its own categorization of names over its acts, they are not either spared without one. Like our religion spearheads’ who name newborns, our ancestral precedency of naming does not spare any creature that carries live, be it human, animal, land, tree, flower, etc. True and agreed. Imagine ourselves without a name; keep aside those funny and punk nicks. How do we call? How do we explain someone to other in his/her absence? If not with a name, world would be full of oye, you, me, choeth, choechoe and one identity less. It helps us in knowing, calling, remembering and indeed facilitates the world of documentation.
History says Cyclones were usually not named. But another source says names have been given to Atlantic storms for  past few hundreds of years. Initially, people living in the Caribbean Islands would name the storms after the saint of the day from the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar for the day on which the hurricane/cyclone occurred. The tradition continued till World War II, when forecasters and meteorologists started using female names to identify the storms.  In 1953, the US weather service officially adopted the idea and created a new phonetic alphabet (international) of women's names from A to W, leaving out Q, U, X, Y and Z. Subsequent protests by women's liberation bodies in the 60s and 70s helped change the naming procedure for the storms to include male names in 1978. The year's first tropical storm was given the name beginning with the letter "A", the second with the letter "B" and so on through the alphabet. In even-numbered years, odd-numbered storms got men's names and in odd-numbered years, odd-numbered storms got women's names.
It started with hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean, where storm with wind speed of 39 mph was named so. And names like hurricanes, typhoons, and cyclones were given to the storm like a nick-naming tradition in humans. Like we were known to different persons with different names depending on frequency of nick naming, storms were called Hurricane in the Atlantic, Typhoon in the Pacific and Cyclone in the Indian Ocean.
Nowadays, the process of naming cyclones involves several countries in the region and is done under the aegis of the World Meteorological Organization.

For the Indian Ocean region, deliberations for naming cyclones began in 2000 and a formula was agreed upon in 2004. Eight countries in the region - Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Myanmar, Oman, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Thailand - all contributed a set of names which are assigned sequentially whenever a cyclonic storm develops. The name Nilam was contributed by Pakistan, Murjan by Oman. The next in line are Mahasen by Sri Lanka. The list of names India has added to the database includes Agni, Akash, Bijli, Jal (cyclones which have all occurred since 2004). The Indian names in the queue are Leher, Megh, Sagar and Vayu, while those suggested by Pakistan include Nilofar, Titli and Bulbul.
And the present cyclone name “Phailin” was contributed by Thailand, meaning sapphire.

It's easier and less confusing to say "Cyclone Phailin" than remember the storm's number or its longitude and latitude. It's also easier when you have more than one storm to track.
Names of some storms that cause widespread damage and deaths are usually retired and are not brought back or reused later, at least for 10 years. These names are then replaced with new names. The names are retired as a mark of respect to the dead. However, there are a number of variations, for example, Hurricane Mark and Hurricane Marc. Once a name is officially retired, it is then replaced with a name of the same gender and beginning with the same letter. So far, since 1972, there have been 50 names that have been retired. And, since the names in the beginning of the alphabet get used more than those at the end, it's more likely that those will be retired names first.

And they do not run out of names. Like naming trend in us,  we add the first name from the spiritual leader, second and third may be from father and mother or either of them, or you get names of different spiritual leaders and later get mix. Also like a teacher who maintains the list of his/her students and adds an alphabet to distinguish those with identical names, World Meteorological Organization maintains the list. 
As we write the same name with different spellings or add those trendy or famous individuals name and neglect those odd, infamous, stigmatizing names, cyclones names which caused massive destruction's and famine were not repeated and reused in future in a way to pay respect to those dead.


  1. It is interesting. I did think about the naming once but lost the drive because I didn't have internet. Keep writing Pema

    1. Yeah sir, but i could not bring up to my own expectation. Had so many ideas and thoughts but words ran short, feeling sorry to my writing skill and vocabulary..
      Thank you sir for the read and comment, will not stop writing as well...
      Happy week end!

  2. That was one hell of a know we had a discussion over the naming of the cyclones day before yesterday on my way to Phuntsholing and i was thinking that i should do some research...anyways, thanks for bringing up this thing buddy..:)

    1. Sogyel...i would love to read your piece, so come up with it. I know mine is way too less to be called "one hell of a knowledge"
      Happy week end!

    2. you have already hijacked the topic...:P


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