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What's in a name? How the Atlantic hurricane naming system works

Hurricane season starts promptly on June 1, but the hurricane naming system goes back hundreds of years.

MACON, Ga. — The Atlantic hurricane season starts June 1 every year, but the system used to name the storms goes back hundreds of years. Meteorologist Taylor Stephenson breaks down how the naming system came to be and how the system works.

We need to go back to the 1800s where the people of the West Indies began naming tropical storms and hurricanes. The storms received their names based on what saint's day they fell on.

Then, in the late 1800s, an Australian meteorologist named Clement Wragge began using women's names to identify tropical cyclones.

U.S. troops in the Army and Navy picked this practice up and began the same female naming system.

Once the 1970s rolled around, meteorologists from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) decided to include both male and female names and created the naming system we use today.

Storm names are listed in English alphabetical order... unless your name is Quinton, Ursula or Zoe. The letters Q, U, X, Y and Z are not included because names starting with those letters are not easy to come by.

Some storm names have French or Spanish roots because the same names are also used by French and Spanish countries and territories in and around the Atlantic Ocean.

There are six different lists of storm names, so the names are recycled every six years. The only exception to that rule is when a storm name is retired.

If the storm caused mass destruction, its name is retired and replaced by another name using the same letter.

Hurricane Katrina, one of the most infamous hurricanes in U.S. history, had its name retired, so we will never use Katrina to name a storm again.

From the 2021 hurricane season, Ida's name is now retired. In its place will be the name "Imani."

Credit: WMAZ

If there are more hurricanes in one season than the 21 letters available, the World Meteorological Organization has a back-up list of names.

Before 2021, that list consisted of Greek letters in Greek alphabetical order, but after the very active 2020 season, the WMO trashed that list. They believed that the names were difficult to pronounce and distracted people from the impacts of those systems.

From now on, the alternative names will resemble the original naming system with English, Spanish, or French backgrounds. Any changes to the naming system would have to be approved by the WMO.

The first name on the list for the 2022 hurricane season is Alex.

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