In the United States, tropical storms and hurricanes are the only kinds of storms that get a name. Andrew, Katrina Ivan, Sandy. Other major storms such as tornadoes, severe thunderstorms and blizzards — aren’t as special. The recent flooding in Louisiana caused damage on the level of a hurricane, but the storm had no name.
Maybe it should have: Since 2012, more than 30 weather disasters without names have each caused more than $1 billion in damage, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Hurricanes haven’t always received names. According to the National Hurricane Center, the latitude and longitude of a storm’s position used to determine the name of a hurricane. While the name was very accurate — a hurricane found at 28°08’55.7″N 67°56’47.0″W would be called 28°08’55.7″N 67°56’47.0″W — it was also very forgettable.
Instead, the World Meteorological Organization tried using actual names, in part because “naming storms made it easier for the media to report.” In turn, the decision to name hurricanes has heightened interest in warnings and increased community preparation ahead of the storms, the organization said.
Last year South Carolina endured a flood of historic proportions that pummeled some parts of the state with more than 2 feet of rain, caused an estimated $2 billion in damage in just four days and resulted in 25 deaths.
Though the flood was linked to Hurricane Joaquin, the storm responsible for the flooding remained nameless.
This past week the Red Cross declared the floods that devastated Louisiana the worst natural disaster since Superstorm Sandy. (Sandy, of course, had a name because it started as a hurricane.)
In Louisiana, about 6.9 trillion gallons of rain pummeled the state in a week, according to Weather Bell Analytics Meteorologist Dr. Ryan Maue, which is enough to fill more than 10 million Olympic-size swimming pools.
It was also enough for Gov. John Bel Edwards to call the deluge historic and unprecedented —those adjectives, of course, couldn’t be attached to a name.
Originally, hurricanes in the West Indies took their names from the calendar of saints. For example, there was Hurricane Santa Ana, which struck Puerto Rico on July 26, 1825, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Naming storms gained popularity when novelist and historian George R. Stewart named a storm Maria in his 1941 book “Storm.” During World War II, US Army and Navy meteorologists responsible for plotting the movement of storms across the western part of the Pacific Ocean began to use names for cyclones in their forecasts. In 1953, meteorologists in the United States began using female names for hurricanes. A quarter-century later, meteorologists began naming storms with both male and female names, first in the eastern Pacific Ocean, followed by the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico one year later.
Today the World Meteorological Organization is responsible for the lists of names used for hurricanes across the globe in the five oceans.