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The Delicate Art And Science Of Naming Hurricanes

C. DiMattei

With all the unknowns attached to the 2013 hurricane season, there’s at least one thing that’s down in black and white:  the 21 names chosen for this year’s tropical storms.

The first name up: “Andrea.”


Strike the last letter, add a “w” and you’ve got the name of the 1992 hurricane that killed 65 people and caused an estimated $26 billion worth of damage. 

“Andrea” (which does mean “Andrew,” if you happen to live in Italy) might hit a little too close to home for South Floridians who remember all too well the havoc created by the monster storm.

There are currently six lists of names in use for storms in the Atlantic.  The lists – compiled by the World Meteorological Organization -- are used in rotation and recycled every six years.  Hurricane names are permanently retired when a storm is particularly deadly or destructive, out of respect for the victims.

But that rule doesn't apply to “sound-alike” names.

“We do tend to keep to the shorter, easier to pronounce names,” says National Hurricane Center Director Richard Knabb.  “Some of them are somewhat similar to past names. But we clearly articulate that this is a new system that doesn’t have the DNA of a past system.”

Before a tropical storm can earn a name, it needs to do two things: display a rotating circulation pattern and reach a peak wind speed of at least 39 miles an hour.

In the event that there are more than 21 named tropical cyclones in one season, any additional storms will take names from the Greek alphabet -- Alpha, Beta, Gamma and so on.

The last time that happened was in 2005, when the most active storm season on record used up all the listed hurricane names, right down to "Wilma."

Christine DiMattei is WLRN's Morning Edition anchor and also reports on Arts & Culture.
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