Monday, September 05, 2005


Typhoons (also known as hurricanes, cyclones, and tropical storms) seem to be around a lot lately. With Typhoon Butterfly on my doorstep, I went out in search of the answer to the all-prevailing question:


Tropical storms are named after reaching a certain strength (winds exceeding 17 metres/sec; or 62 km/h) for several reasons (you can go here to read more).

The name that will be given to the storm is pre-determind. Lists of names are created by committees from the WMO and national weather services, and are region-specific.

In past times cyclones were named after Saints. However, the modern practice ascribing 'normal' names was introduced at the end of the 19th century by an Aussie guy named Clement Wragge, who used female names as well as the names of politicians who had offended him, while the during WWII, cyclones were given only female names (and, yes, it was meant in a sexist way).

The current practice of systematically and pre-determining the names began in 1953, and, again, the names were exclusively feminine. This was changed in 1979 in response to the practice being considered sexist.

Currently, in the Atlantic and Eastern North Pacific regions, feminine and masculine names are assigned alternately during a given season, in alphabetic order. The "gender" of the first storm of the season also alternates year to year. Six lists of names are prepared in advance, and are reused on a six-year cycle (a different list is used for each year, regardless of whether or not all the names on the first list were used, with the first list begining again on the seventh year).

In the Western North Pacific, (Asia) five lists of names are used, with each of the 14 nations on the Typhoon Committee submitting two names to each list. Names are used in the order of the countries' English names, sequentially without regard to year (the new list is only begun after the last name on the previous list has been used). A secondary naming system is used in Western North Pacific that numbers a typhoon on the order it formed, resetting on December 31 of every year. (Thus, Typhoon Nambi (Butterfly) is also named Typhoon 14, as it is the 14 typhoon of the year).

Typhoon Talim (Typhoon 13) has just hit China, and Typhoon Nabi is in the area. The next typhoon to form in the Western North Pacific region will be named Khanun (a word in Thai meaning who the hell knows what. Probably 'Feather Flower').

Cyclone Warwick will hit Northern Australia one of these days. And while Cyclone Richard, Lisa, and Greg will hit Eastern Australia, Melissa will hit the North Atlantic and Emma will one day cause destruction in Western Australia, there is no Cyclone Angela, Christy, Rodney, or Lochy planned.

So, the answer to the question, in part, is that these storms are not exclusively named after women anymore.
While merely the name 'Hurricane Ingrid' would sent people scuttling (with images of huge, scary European women in mind), 'Typhoon Sunflower' 'aint an accurate description of the Finger of God.

This has been another informercial from Captain Chopsticks, chopping sticks to eat spaghetti.

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