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Hurricanes 2024

Hurricane Season in the Atlantic seaboard started June 1st and runs through November 30th, and forecasters are predicting above-normal activity this year. Growing up in South Texas, I witnessed several scary and destructive hurricanes. We lived 40 miles from Corpus Christi, which is on the Gulf of Mexico. These experiences and the story of how hurricanes get named sparked my interest in this topic. I’ve written about hurricanes previously; check out this blog from four years ago.

It's here! Tropical storm Alberto was just named: it’s Alberto, not Albert. An International Committee of the World Meteorological Association created and maintains six lists of 21 predetermined hurricane names (in alphabetical order), which are rotated every six years. Since names starting with Q, U, X, Y, or Z aren’t very common, no hurricane names start with these letters. The six name lists rotate, and unless the name Alberto (or any of the 21 storms listed this year) is retired, these names will be used again in 2030.

When Hurricane Irma wreaked havoc on the Atlantic seaboard in 2017, she had the English name pronunciation (UR-ma) rather than the Romance Language version. It bothered some friends who called or texted to say it was upsetting to hear my name mispronounced in the news. It's cool, I told them; URma is an angry white woman, aptly named, so it's not MY name they are mispronouncing. Since Irma was retired as a hurricane name, we won’t be hearing from her again.


Hurricane Naming History

Hurricanes are given short, distinctive names to facilitate communication with the general public about oncoming storms and their potential danger. Sometimes, there is more than one storm in a region, making it even more important to have recognizable names so that people may keep track of them. Not all storms are given names. When a developing Atlantic cyclone reaches sustained winds of least 39 mph it is designated a tropical storm and named. Once sustained winds of that tropical storm reach 74 mph, it becomes a hurricane. Hurricanes are categorized as levels 1-5 based on wind speed. The higher the number, the stronger the winds. Hurricanes Katrina, Irma, and Maria, designated as Category 5 were among the most destructive hurricanes with sustained winds exceeding 175 miles per hour.


The naming of storms and hurricanes has varied widely over the centuries. For a time, storms were named after the Saint’s Day, on which they made landfall. As many of the islands in the Atlantic were once colonies of Spain and France (and overwhelmingly Catholic), the residents of these areas were familiar with Saints’ Days. A hurricane making landfall on September 13, el Día de San Felipe, would be named the San Felipe Hurricane. As chance would have it, Puerto Rico experienced two major hurricanes on September 13 -- San Felipe the First in 1876 and San Felipe the Second in 1928.


Hurricanes have also been named after their landfall locations, such as the Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900.

Early meteorologists used coordinates such as "the 25°N 80°W Hurricane," but this proved useless in informing the general public about the severe winds, rains, and other damage that were headed their way, and this system was quickly abandoned.


During World War II, military meteorologists and naval officers began informally giving typhoons and storms the names of their wives and girlfriends. This practice made it easier to communicate about the storms and inspired the idea of creating some systemic way of naming hurricanes.


In the 1950s, the US Weather Bureau began using the phonetic alphabet from World War II, such as Alpha, Bravo, and Charlie, but this practice was also abandoned. In 1953, the U.S. Weather Bureau, the precursor to the National Hurricane Service, formally adopted female names for Atlantic Ocean storms. The descriptions of these storms and hurricanes capitalized on stereotypes about women, and feminists began demanding that storms be named after both women and men.


One of the champions who pushed for a stop to this practice was Roxcy Bolton (pictured above), described in her NYT obituary as a “pioneering and tempestuous (even there they couldn’t the stereotype) Florida feminist who was credited with founding the nation’s first rape treatment center and who helped persuade national weather forecaster not to name tropical storms after only women.” Roxcy Bolton did so much more than that to advance women’s equality, so take a minute to read her obituary. In 1969, the National Organization for Women (NOW) passed a resolution demanding that the National Hurricane Center stop naming storms exclusively after women.


Roxy and NOW won that fight, and in 1979, Hurricane Bob was the first Atlantic tropical cyclone with a male name. As storms go, Bob was one of the smaller storms of the 1979 Hurricane Season. Since then, storms and hurricanes have been assigned male and female names.


This growing awareness of addressing bias and being more inclusive extended beyond gender and led to the use of names that reflected the languages widely spoken by the populations in the Atlantic region: English, Spanish, and French. Thus, names like Alberto, Virginie (vir-JIN-ee), Henri (ahn-REE), and Idalia are on the Hurricane names lists.


What happens if there are MORE than 21 storms or hurricanes?

The year that Hurricane Katrina devasted New Orleans and many other Gulf Coast/Atlantic regions was record-breaking in many respects. In 2005, Hurricanes Rita and Wilma also caused extraordinary damage. That year, there were 27 named storms/hurricanes, thus exhausting the 21 names on the official list by late October. The six subsequent storms were named after letters of the Greek alphabet: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Epsilon, and Zeta.


In 2020, the most active Atlantic storm season ever on record, there were 30 named storms, breaking the 27-storm record set in 2005. This was the second and final time the Greek Alphabet naming system was used. We added to our knowledge of the Greek Alphabet with Eta, Theta, and Iota (we'd learned the earlier letters of the Greek Alphabet in 2005 with Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Epsilon, and Zeta.)

The World Meteorological Association adopted a new list of Supplemental Hurricane Names in 2021. The storm names below will be used when any of the 21 names on that year’s list are exhausted. So, any hurricanes in 2024 after William will get names from this Supplemental Storm Name List.

Retired Hurricane Names

When a major hurricane causes significant damage, including deaths, that hurricane name can be retired at the request of the countries affected by those hurricanes. The name Katrina, perhaps the best-known hurricane in our lifetime, will never be used again. A new name, starting with the letter K, Katia, has taken Katrina’s place. In 2017, four destructive hurricane names – Harvey, Irma, Maria, and Nate – were retired and replaced with Harold, Idalia, Margot, and Nigel, and these will be used again in 2029.


El Niño, La Niña, heat domes, droughts, derechos, hailstorms, tornadoes, and rising sea levels are the extreme climate changes we witness yearly. If the National Hurricane Center’s early forecast, released May 23, is right, the North Atlantic could see 17 to 25 named storms, eight to 13 hurricanes, and four to seven major hurricanes by the end of November. This year, it is predicted that we will experience the highest number of named storms in any NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) preseason forecast. So be prepared.

Check out these articles to learn more about hurricanes, the history of their naming, and what we might expect this hurricane season. And when you go to the polls to vote for your elected representatives, keep the environment in mind. If we don't take more action to address climate change, extreme weather events will increase in their destructiveness.





Personal Update

I was honored to be one of several Ramey Gender Justice Awardees at Equal Rights Advocates' 50th Anniversary Gala last month. I shared this honor with other women, including ERA co-founders Nancy Davis and Wendy Williams, pictured below, with Noreen Farrell, ERA's Executive Director.

On September 21st, I'll serve as Emcee and receive the East Bay Sanctuary Covenant's Storyteller Award. The event will be in Berkeley, California, and you can support this

storied immigrant rights organization by attending or making a contribution to their work in the community. I'd love to see you there if you live in the Bay Area. More info and tickets are here.

And finally . . .

I'll perform my one-woman show later this year in Richmond, CA. If you haven't seen my show's updated version, come check it out.

It's my ONLY Bay Area performance in 2024. Tickets are not yet on sale, but they will be in a few weeks.

Stay tuned.


Thanks so much for reading my blog. If you enjoy it, share it with friends and family. Muy agradecida.

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