How Do You Name A Hurricane?

And why do we name hurricanes anyway?

cartonnish light and dark blue swirling spiral with an eye at the center to look like a hurricane, all against a wine-colored background with a paper-like texture
Credit: Shutterstock

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How did we wind up with a storm named Iota? Well, we ran out of hurricane names.

Every year, the World Meteorological Organization puts out a list of 21 names for the season’s hurricanes and tropical storms. But this year, the Atlantic hurricane season was so active that by September, we’d flown through the whole list of names and had to switch to the Greek alphabet. Thus, Hurricane Iota became the 30th named storm of the season.

We’ve only had to dip into the Greek alphabet once before, in 2005. But the practice of naming hurricanes goes back to the 19th century, and it was a bit of a bumpy ride to land on the system we use today. In this episode: The story of a meteorologist in Australia, a novel, and a second-wave feminist from Florida—and how they brought us hurricane names.

Read a transcript of this episode. 

Guests:

Christina M. Gonzalez is a doctoral candidate in anthropology at the University of Texas at Austin.

Liz Skilton is a historian and the author of Tempest: Hurricane Naming and American Culture.

Footnotes & Further Reading:

For more hurricane history, check out A Furious Sky: The Five-Hundred-Year History of America’s Hurricanes by Eric Jay Dolin.

To learn more about Roxcy Bolton and the fight to change the naming system, read Liz Skilton’s article “Gendering Natural Disaster: The Battle Over Female Hurricane Names.”

Credits:

Science Diction is hosted and produced by Johanna Mayer. Our editor and producer is Elah Feder. We had story editing from Nathan Tobey, and fact checking by Michelle Harris. Our composer is Daniel Peterschmidt. Chris Wood did sound design and mastered the episode. Special thanks to the Florida State Library & Archives for allowing us use footage from Roxcy Bolton’s oral history interview. Nadja Oertelt is our chief content officer.

Meet the Writers

About Johanna Mayer

Johanna Mayer is a podcast producer and hosts Science Diction from Science Friday. When she’s not working, she’s probably baking a fruit pie. Cherry’s her specialty, but she whips up a mean rhubarb streusel as well.

About Elah Feder

Elah Feder is a senior producer for podcasts at Science Friday. She produces the Science Diction podcast, and co-hosted and produced the Undiscovered podcast.

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