Science Center: The History Of Naming Hurricanes

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Last September, Hurricane Matthew, became the deadliest Atlantic hurricane since 2005. The monstrous Category 5 storm, wrought devastation in Haiti, killing more than 500 people.

Last week, the names Matthew as well as Otto, which caused major damage in Nicaragua and Costa Rica, were stricken from a list of alphabetical names used to identify and track tropical systems.

The reason is, as Dr. Phil Klotzbach, Research Scientist and Hurricane Expert at Colorado State University, explains, “when there’s a storm that does an incredible amount of damage and devastation such as a Hurricane Matthew last year, the World Meteorological Organization, which is the weather organization of the United Nations decided to retire the names.”

These names are the 81st and 82nd to be retired since the practice in 1953 as prior to that the system was a bit less efficient.

Dr. Klotzbach details, “if the storm did a lot of damage it was say known as the Great Hurricane, the Great Florida Hurricane, the Great New England Hurricane or something along those lines…in 1950 just to clear up the confusion of with the media and the general public, the Air Force starting using the phonetic alphabet and then in 1953, the list got into using female names.”

The use of men’s names was introduced in 1979. The modern day list of hurricane names is recycled every six years, except when a storm is so deadly or destructive that the future use of the name would be insensitive.

Dr. Klotzbach cites, “for example, if there were another Hurricane Katrina, obviously people would freak out given the fact that the last Hurricane Katrina did a huge amount of damage, the next storm could be very innocuous, but the name has already has the devastation associated with it.”

Last week, led by Dr. Phil Klotzbach, Colorado State University issued its extended range forecast for the upcoming 2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season.

CSU predicts that tropical activity will be slightly below average this upcoming season with 11 named storms (12 is average) with 4 hurricanes (6.5 is average) and 2 major hurricanes (2 is average).

The possibility of El Nino conditions to develop this summer is cited as one of the main factors in the slightly below average forecast.

El Nino leads to increased wind shear which is not conducive to tropical development, as strong winds tear down the tops of developing thunderstorms which comprise tropical systems.

The researchers at Colorado State will issue an updated 2017 Hurricane Season Forecast on June 1st, the first official day of the season.

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