Last month, the Indian subcontinent was hit by two cyclones. On May 14, it was cyclone Tauktae that hit the Western coast of the country while on May 26, severe cyclonic storm Yaas hit North Odisha and West Bengal. Yaas hit with a 130-140 per km wind speed, while Tauktae maintained wind speeds between 60 and 70 km/hr, often graduating to 80 km/hr.
Teams from the National Disaster Relief Fund and the Army began relief and rescue operations as several villages and low-lying areas were overrun by the storm. Lakhs of people were already evacuated from the coastal regions of Odisha and West Bengal.
But have you ever wondered where these cyclones get their names from? Who names cyclones and why do they have the names that they have? Let’s find out!
When did we start naming Cyclones?
The naming of tropical cyclones is a recent phenomenon. The tradition started with hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean.
Before the use of names, cyclones had been categorised by latitude and longitude numbers. Although this was easy for meteorologists to track, it was widely seen as confusing for the general public.
The National Hurricane Center began formally naming storms in 1950. At first they were named from a phonetic alphabet (Able, Baker, Charlie, and so on).
But this method was changed in 1953 in favour of using female names. The first tropical storm to receive a female name was tropical storm Alice in 1953.
In 1978, men’s names joined the storm list, alternating with the female names. So a storm name with an A, like Anne, would be the first in any given year, followed by B for Bernard, for example.
The first storm with a male name was hurricane Bob, which hit the United States Gulf Coast in 1979.
Who names the Cyclones in India?
The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) maintains a rotating list of names for each tropical cyclone basin.
Names of cyclones in the northern Indian Ocean, Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea region are decided by a panel comprising 13 countries.
India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Pakistan, the Maldives, Oman, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Iran, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen, name cyclones in the region.
It is said that according to the alphabetical order, each country is chosen to pick a name for the next cyclone to form in the region on a rotational basis.
Naming a storm monster – How Tauktae, Yaas got named?
Each tropical cyclone has a name that has been decided years before it happens. And just like human names, they too bear relevance with its nature.
Tauktae, a Burmese name, means ‘gecko’, a highly vocal lizard, in the local dialect. The cyclone was named by Myanmar.
Whereas Yaas, named by Oman, is a Persian word, meaning Jasmine, a fragrant flower. Quite an unlikely name for a storm!
Interestingly, in Odisha, over 300 babies were born during the cyclone, with many families wanting to name their newborns ‘Yaas’, after the menacing storm!
The last cyclone name by India was Gati that meant ‘speed.’ The storm made landfall in Somalia in November 2020.
Criteria for naming tropical cyclones
The Indian Meteorological Department names the cyclonic storms rising in the North Indian Ocean.
The names are selected keeping the following criteria in mind:
What’s in the name? – The greater purpose of naming cyclones
Assigning names to potentially lethal storms is important, for several reasons.
According to research, adopting names for cyclones makes it easier for people to remember, as opposed to numbers and technical terms.
It also helps the scientific community, the media, and disaster managers, besides the general public.
It is easy to identify individual cyclones with a name, which creates awareness of their development, rapidly disseminates warnings about the storm, and prevents confusion when there are multiple cyclones over a region.
What will the next cyclone be called?
The list of 13 names prepared by each of the 13 nations are out in the public domain. The next cyclone in the region will be called ‘Gulab’, meaning a rose. The name was recommended by Pakistan. The one after it will be ‘Shaheen’, meaning Eagle, as named by Qatar.
At present the first list is in use. The list has a total of 169 names at present, which will be used on a rotational basis. Once the names in the first list are exhausted, the second list of the names will be used, and so on.
Do you know any uncommon facts about cyclones and storms? Do tell us in the comments below.
As a true introvert, Raza Mehdi shudders at the thought of having to expose very much of himself willingly and with malice-aforethought. Writing online since 2008; fiction, poetry, and articles on science, politics, humour and history. When he is not working, he is either trekking in mountains or sleeping. In his own words, the most apt description of him would be: Biryani on social media, daal chawal in person.