Cyclone Fani: Know How The Tropical Cyclones Get Their Names

30 April 2019

Sangita Agarwal

Bhubaneswar: Phailin, Hudhud, Titli, Phethai are some of the names of cyclones which are still afresh in our minds. But one always wonders why and how these tropical cyclones in Arabian Sea, the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean are named. It has a history and a process.

Cyclones were usually not named. The tradition started with hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean, where tropical storms that reach sustained wind speeds of 39 miles per hour were given names. Incidentally, hurricanes, typhoons, cyclones are all the same, just different names for tropical storms in different parts of the world; Hurricane in the Atlantic, Typhoon in the Pacific and Cyclone in the Indian Ocean.

The tropical cyclones are named neither after any particular person, nor with any preference in alphabetical sequence. The names selected are those that are familiar to the people in each region.

When did naming of cyclones start?

For the past few hundred years, names have been given to Atlantic storms. The people living in Caribbean Islands initially named the storms after saints. The tradition continued till World War II, when the meteorologists started using female names to identify the cyclones.

In 1953, the US weather service officially adopted the idea and created a new phonetic alphabet (international) of women's names from A to W, leaving out Q, U, X, Y and Z. Subsequent protests by women's liberation bodies in the 60s and 70s helped change the naming procedure for the storms to include male names in 1978.

How Are Cyclones Named In India and the Neighbourhood?

The naming of tropical cyclones is a recent phenomenon. The process of naming cyclones involves several countries in the region and is done under the aegis of the World Meteorological Organization.

For the Indian Ocean region, deliberations for naming cyclones began in 2000 and a formula was agreed upon in 2004. Eight countries in the region - Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Myanmar, Oman, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Thailand - all contributed a set of names which are assigned sequentially whenever a cyclonic storm develops.

The lists for the Indian region are used sequentially and are not rotated every few years like the Atlantic and Eastern Pacific lists.

For instance, Titli which is listed in the 6th row of List 7 was used for a severe cyclone in the Andaman sea in October 2018. The next name Gaja was used for a severe cyclone near Thailand in November 2018. The recent severe cyclone over the Bay of Bengal is hence named ‘Phethai’. Phethai is the last entry in List 7. So, the cyclone which is all set to hit now is named ‘Fani’, the first entry of List 8. Once the lists are exhausted, the panel meets again, to decide on a list of names.

If there is a severe storm that causes a lot of  damage/destruction & causes many deaths, then its name is considered for retirement and is not used repeatedly. This is to ensure that the history and record of that cyclone is identified with a unique name.

Why Name A Cyclone?

According to the India Meteorological Department (IMD), the practice of naming tropical cyclones help in the quick identification of storms in warning messages because names are presumed to be far easier to remember than the numbers and technical names.

Naming cyclones helps to identify each individual tropical cyclone, makes it easier for the media to report on them, heightens interest in warnings, increases community preparedness, and does not confuse the public when there is more than one tropical cyclone in the same area.