Storm names follow strict alphabetical order

By Isaac Davison

A troublesome child called Zaka could soon be at your doorstep.

The Arabic name, meaning intelligent or honest, is next on a list of cyclone titles for the South Pacific.

A storm must pass a threshold to earn a name. If winds reach gale force within the core of a cyclone in the Pacific, the resulting storm will be christened.

The names are always short, and always easy to pronounce, because the naming process was introduced for ease of identification.

The use of snappy titles is quicker and more memorable than the original method of describing storms by their latitude and longitude.

The World Meteorological Organisation manages lists of names for 10 areas across the globe. Most run in alphabetical order, and the names come from the region in which the weather disturbances form.

The letters Q and X are often skipped because of the lack of names beginning with that character.

Naming storms was not always so orderly. The first titles for cyclones were more likely to be based on stormy characters.

At the end of the 19th century, Australian meteorologist Clement Wragge named cyclones after politicians whom he disliked. He then gave the storms unflattering descriptions, such as wandering aimlessly, or frequently changing its mind.

MetService weather ambassador Bob McDavitt said that World War II bomber crews flying between Micronesia and Japan informally used the names of girlfriends and wives for the tropical cycloneswhich they encountered.

In other instances, storms near the Spanish-speaking islands in the Mediterranean were originally named after saints, and some cyclones were named after ships they inflicted damage on.

Official naming gradually became more organised in 1945, and in 1964 the Australian and South Pacific regions started giving women's names to the storms. In 1974-75, men's names were included too.

While the benefits of naming cyclones are many - it heightens public awareness, improving community preparedness - the process has some critics.

Some have called for an end to the humanising of cyclones, saying it is insensitive to have brutal, sometimes fatal forces with playful names like Fifi or lyrical names like Leila or Giselle.

Particularly harmful or deadly cyclones have had their names retired. For reasons of sensitivity to storm victims, the Gulf of Mexico authorities will never name another hurricane Katrina.

Similarly, New Zealand will never experience another Cyclone Bola. After Bola tore through the North and South Islands in March 1988, killing three, the name was retired.

If the next name in line is also the name of a public figure in the news, it will not be used.

So don't expect a Cyclone Winston, for example, to roll through New Zealand during this year's general election.

This year's cyclone lists

The Fiji list this season started with Vania, and was followed by Wilma, Yasi, and Zaka. The next list is: Atu, Bune, Cyril, Daphne, Evan, Freda, Garry, Heley, Ian, June, Kofi, Lusi, Mike, Nute, Odile, Pam, Reuben, Solo, Tuni, Ula, Victor, Winston, Yalo, and then Zena.

The Australian list this season started with Tasha, and was followed by Vince, then Zelia. Their next alphabet is: Anthony, Bianca, Carlos, Dianne, Errol, Fina, Grant, Heidi, Iggy, Jasmine, Koji, Lua, Mitchell, Narelle, Oswald, Peta, Rusty, Sandra, Tim, Victoria, and Zane.

- NZ Herald

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