Long before these basins crank up with tropical waves, storms, and hurricanes, the National Hurricane Center establishes a list of storm names that will be assigned when a weather event is powerful enough to be named.
A tropical system gets its name when it maintains sustained wind speeds of 39 miles per hour, at which point it is officially a tropical storm. Many named systems never reach hurricane status, when winds reach 74 miles per hour.
Until the 1950s, tropical storms and hurricanes were tracked by the order in which they occured each year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “Over time, it was learned that the use of short, easily remembered names in written as well as spoken communications is quicker and reduces confusion when two or more tropical storms occur at the same time. In the past, confusion and false rumors resulted when storm advisories broadcast from radio stations were mistaken for warnings concerning an entirely different storm located hundreds of miles away.”
Hurricane naming began in 1953, with only female names used until 1978. Male names were added in 1979.
Storm names are in alphabetical order, skipping Q, U, X, Y, and Z (in the Atlantic basin), and alternate between male and female names. There are six lists of 21 names, and each list is recycled every six years. (i.e., 2018’s names will be used again in 2024, 2019’s will be used again in 2025, and so on.)
Any storm names that were used for a particularly deadly or costly hurricane are retired and replaced. The names Harvey, Irma, Maria, and Nate were retired following the devastating 2017 season.