What's in a name?

Soon we will begin hearing weather reports that include news about storms with names. This year they may include Arthur or Fay or Josephine or Omar. Those are a few of the names set aside for storms that boil up in the Atlantic Ocean this year and become strong enough for a name.

How do tropical storms and hurricanes get their names?

The practice is an old one. According to the National Hurricane Center at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, for hundreds of years hurricanes in the West Indies that occurred on a saint’s feast day were named after that saint.

Later, using names was found to be a quicker and more efficient way to distinguish between storms than the previous method of using latitude and longitude for identification.

Giving major storms female names was common practice among army and navy meteorologists during World War II, and in 1953 the United States began officially using women’s names for storms. (During the two previous years the country took a stab at using a phonetic alphabet — Able, Baker, Charlie — but that proved confusing.

A quarter-century later men’s names were added to the list of storms in the Eastern North Pacific and in 1979 they were included in lists for storms in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.

While the names change each year, they repeat on a six-year rotation. They are chosen by an international committee of the World Meteorological Association.

Despite the name rotation, there will never be another Hurricane Katrina or Irene. That’s because names given to especially destructive or deadly storms are retired.

Since 1954 when the naming practice was in place, there have been 78 retired names of storms that hit the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea or Gulf of Mexico.

The year 2005 has the most retired names: Dennis, Katrina, Rita, Stan and Wilma.Some other memorable — or notorious — storms include Camille (1969), Gloria (1985), Hugo (1989), Andrew (1992), Floyd (1999), Ivan (2004), Ike (2008), Irene (2011), and Sandy (2012).

Information: nhc.noaa.gov.