Briefly, here’s how the monikers for storms are picked. The world is roughly divided into six major basins where storm activity occurs. Each basin has an organization that comes up with lists of names a few years in advance. The basins don’t all follow the same rules for coming up with the names. In one basin, they don’t even use human names necessarily. But the namers for the North Atlantic and Northeastern Pacific share the following system, according to the National Hurricane Center: male and female names alternate in alphabetical order, and the gender that the list starts with alternates every year. The lists are recycled every six years.
(The difference between hurricanes, cyclones and typhoons is another fascinating story, which we explain here.)
Letters that rarely begin names (like Q) are excluded from consideration. (There will never be a Hurricane Quetzalcoatl.) Not until a tropical depression transforms into a tropical storm is it eligible for a name. Wherever the storm-level activity kicks in determines which basin has naming privileges.
When tropical storms reach a certain velocity, they become hurricanes or cyclones. Hurricane names can be retired from the list if they have caused a certain level of destruction. And if there are so many storms in one region that all the alphabetical names are used up, additional storms are called “Alpha,” Beta,” etc., through the Greek alphabet (alpha, beta . . .)
The following are the remaining names on the 2010 North Atlantic list: Gaston, Hermine, Igor, Julia, Karl, Lisa, Matthew, Nicole, Otto, Paula, Richard, Shary, Tomas, Virginie, and Walter.
Originally the names for storms near North America were only female. The sexist implications of the practice led to the current system.
Historically, an earl is a title of nobility, a rank below that of marquis and above that of viscount. Sort of a medieval middle manager. The name Katrina is a version of Katherine, which derives from the Greek word meaning “pure.”
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