Greg? Tammy? Eugene? Is your name or the name of a loved one on the 2023 Hurricane Names list? And who comes up with these names, anyway? Find out how hurricanes are named—and what happens if we run out of names because rising sea temperatures mean more intense storms.
Who Names Hurricanes?
Hurricane season officially begins on June 1 and ends on November 30 each year. The lists of hurricane names for each season are chosen by the World Meteorological Organization (not The Old Farmer’s Almanac!). The lists have been maintained since 1953 (originally by the National Hurricane Center). However, the WMO doesn’t only name hurricanes that occur off the shores of North America; they maintain lists for all areas affected by tropical cyclones. See hurricane names for other regions here.
There are only six lists of names for Atlantic and Pacific storms, which are cycled through every six years. For the 2023 hurricane season, the list of names from 2017 is being used again, so don’t be surprised if some sound familiar. Those that are not retired from the list this year will be used again in the 2029 season.
Note: The names of especially destructive hurricanes are actually removed and never used again. See a list of retired hurricane names based on level of destructiveness!
What Are Hurricanes Vs. Tropical Storms?
We tend to use the name hurricane for any intense, swirling storm that starts in the tropical ocean but there are actually clear parameters for naming based mainly on wind speed. Tropical storms are given names as soon as they display a rotating circulation pattern and wind speeds of 39 miles per hour (63 kilometers per hour). A tropical storm develops into a hurricane when wind speeds reach 74 mph (119 kph).
The traditional names listed are in alphabetical order as the storms occur. In other words, the first storm of the season will be given the first name on the list (starting with the letter A), the next will be given the name starting with B, and so on.
An average year, based on 1991 to 2020 data, will result in 14 named storms, including seven hurricanes and three major hurricanes.
Hurricane Names for the 2023 Hurricane Season
The lists below include storms in both the Atlantic Basin (Gulf and East Coast hurricanes) and Eastern North-Pacific (Pacific Island and West Coast hurricanes).
On the Atlantic tropical storm list, there are 21 names; note that the list does not include names that begin with the letters Q, U, X, Y, and Z because of the lack of names beginning with those letters. However, the East Pacific list uses X, Y, and Z though two names per letter are alternated every other year. This is because, traditionally, the East Pacific averages more named storms per year, and it was more likely the end of the storm list could be reached.
Hurricane Names for the 2023 Hurricane Season
|Atlantic Tropical (and Subtropical) Storm Names for 2023|
|Eastern North-Pacific Tropical (and Subtropical) Storm Names for 2023|
What Happens If We Run Out of Names?
Of course, the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season was the most active Atlantic hurricane season on record—we ran through the alphabetical list of 21 names (and then some)! This happens very rarely (it has only happened once before, in 2005), but intense storms seem likely to become more common with the rising temperatures of the oceans. What happens when it does?
Up until the 2020 season, we simply moved on to the Greek alphabet (Alpha, Beta, Gamma, etc.). The 2020 season ended with Hurricane Iota.
However, in 2021, WMO decided to discontinue the use of the Greek alphabet for several reasons, including:
- Using the Greek names was such a rare occurrence that it distracted from more important news about the hurricanes themselves.
- When translated into different languages of the region, the Greek names led to confusion and inconsistencies.
- The names Eta and Iota were retired after the 2020 season, and there had not been a plan for replacing retired Greek names. It seems confusing to retire a letter versus a name.
So, any extra storms will now be named from a list of supplemental names is used.
Supplemental Hurricane Names
|Atlantic Storm Names |
|Eastern North-Pacific Storm Names|
The History of Naming Hurricanes
- The Taino Native Americans from Caribbean and Florida called these severe sea storms Huricán, after “a great spirit who commanded the east wind.” When the Spanish explorers passed through the Caribbean in the 1550s, they picked it up. By the 16th century, the word was modified once again to our present-day “hurricane.”
- The first hurricanes were named after patron saints on whose feast days the storms occurred.
- In 1950, a formal practice for storm naming was developed by the U.S. National Hurricane Center. At that time, storms were named according to a phonetic alphabet (e.g., Able, Baker, Charlie) and the names used were the same for each hurricane season; in other words, the first hurricane of a season was always named “Able,” the second “Baker,” and so on.
- In 1953, to avoid the repetitive use of names, the system was revised so that storms would be given exclusively female names. This mimicked the habits of old naval meteorologists, who named the storms after their wife or girlfriend, much the way ships at sea were named by sailors after women and the wives they missed. A weatherman in Australia is credited with being the first person to give a tropical storm a female name.
- In 1979, the system was revised again to include both female and male names, alternating between masculine and feminine.
More Information on Hurricanes
Are you a weather watcher? Learn more about hurricanes, the most powerful storms on Earth:
Also, check out our series on some of the worst hurricanes to ever hit the US: The Worst Hurricanes in US History (Part I)