Adonis Manzan | February 7, 2019
A tropical country such as the Philippines has always been faced with catastrophic typhoons in its long history, and it has caused misery and painful memories especially to those stricken by such immense devastation. There is a gaping question left unanswered for so long a time now. Just how do we go about naming these majestic wind and rain phenomena?
Many see this subject matter as “too technical” and some may liken it with the melodramas of life we are all accustomed to in the Philippine setting, evading the need to understand the facts behind a name. In several occasions, not taking it seriously have resulted in countless loss of lives, decimated livelihood, lost opportunity and desolation of affected communities. And this remains a challenge for both the government and non-governmental bodies to address.
Before we do a deep-dive on the protocols in naming storms, some of us might be more interested in knowing exactly the fundamental background renowned internationally.
A bit of history
To date, tropical cyclone naming is sanctioned by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) – the United Nations’ international body governing national weather agencies from around the globe. It has set a global standard in meteorology and related disciplines, and the practice of naming storms started a couple of decades ago to address the need in identifying different storms, and the establishment of international norms ramping up the capability of these forecasting agencies to convey to member nations quickly and effectively, particularly the warning messages relative to storms.
Using the publication from the WMO, in the Northern Hemisphere during the mid-1900s, forecasters have started naming storms after women. This has been a widespread practice of its member states, until such time they chose to identify storm names with a certain list arranged alphabetically. Before the end of the 1900s, forecasters considered naming storms with men, especially those forming in the Southern Hemisphere. In 1979, men’s names were introduced and they alternate with the women’s names. Six (6) lists are used in rotation. Thus, the 2015 list will be used again in 2021.
The only time that there is a change in the list is if a storm is so deadly or costly that the future use of its name on a different storm would be appropriate for reasons of sensitivity. When this happens, the offending name is stricken from the list and another name is selected to replace it. Catastrophic typhoons such as Haiyan (Yolanda) in the Philippines in November of 2013 is just one of the many, with Sandy (USA) in 2012, Mitch (Honduras) in 1998, and Tracy (Darwin, Australia) in 1974 to name a few.
In the Philippines, Manila Observatory was damaged by a bombing during World War II. Because of this, the American Weather Service reactivated our Weather Bureau with Tropical Cyclone names coming from the Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC) of the US Navy, where all the names were named after women since 1945.
In 1983, when PAGASA was established, they introduced local names based on the old Filipino alphabet with women’s names ending in “ng” (e.g. Rosing), which continued until 1999-2000. By 2000 onwards, after JTWC paved way to WMO’s new naming convention, PAGASA also followed suit announcing a “Name a Storm” content where new names that will be used using the new Filipino alphabet were selected.
Using names instead of numbers have been proven effective in aligning efforts, turning the knob down on the technicalities of the study, and what measures have to be taken by relevant people ahead of the tropical cyclone. For the longest time, this method makes the job of weather prediction a lot easier for the forecasters, and for the media to report it to the public. The aim is to make people aware, and taking this path will consolidate government resources – making the response more effective. Exchanging these detailed storm information helps in many ways, specifically, it narrows down the much-needed preparations and collective plans of the respective government agency of member states. This, too, will intensify the campaign by building trust and interest, reaching as many people required to take action based on science, and expertise of weather forecasters, meteorologists and weather agencies from across the industry. This increases community preparedness ahead of the threat and somehow lowers the risk in case the storm reach for the coastal communities.
Procedures of naming Tropical Cyclones
Based on a WMO paper, which, we will step-by-step discuss in-to-to here: there is a strict procedure in determining a list of tropical cyclone names in an ocean basin(s), and it is the task of The Tropical Cyclone Regional Body responsible for that basin(s) gather for a meeting annually or biennially for the purpose. There are five (5) tropical cyclone regional bodies, i.e. ESCAP/WMO Typhoon Committee, RA IV Hurricane Committee, and RA V Tropical Cyclone Committee. For instance, Hurricane Committee determines a designated list of hurricane names for six years separately at its annual session. The pre-designated list of hurricane names are proposed by its members that include the National Meteorological and Hydrological Services in the North/Central America and the Caribbean. Naming procedures in other regions are almost the same as in the Caribbean. In general, tropical cyclones are named according to the rules at a regional level.
It is important to note that tropical cyclones/hurricanes are named neither after any particular person, nor with any preference in alphabetical sequence. The tropical cyclone/hurricane names selected are those that are familiar to the people in each region. Obviously, the main purpose of naming a tropical cyclone/hurricane is basically for people easily to understand and remember the tropical cyclone/hurricane in a region, thus to facilitate tropical cyclone/hurricane disaster risk awareness, preparedness, management and reduction.
‘’WMO maintains rotating lists of names which are appropriate for each Tropical Cyclone basin. If a cyclone is particularly deadly or costly, then its name is retired and replaced by another one.’’
Tropical cyclones are a fact of life. Time and again, like the ebb and flow of water, people have to adapt with its ever-changing ferocity and numbers. It is a constant reminder of how little we are, and by keeping an open mind, having an enlightened grasp of useful information, we can turn things around. Understanding nature can address the lack we have. Perhaps one day, our efforts will not come to naught when we take the path of questioning everything. The answer is just out there to be discovered.
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