Much has been written about the process behind naming Hurricane Irene, who is lashing the eastern coast of the United States as I type. We are familiar with the system: Atlantic hurricanes are named on a six-year rotational system, with those attributed to particularly devastating storms - Katrina, for example - being struck from the list, and the names alternating between male and female genders. (There must have been a reason hurricanes were given only female names for 15 years until 1978, I'm sure. They both have much in common. Devastation, terror, etc.)
Hurricane Irene is the ninth Atlantic hurricane this year, following Hurricane Harvey (which sounds quite sweet) and Hurricane Gert (which certainly does not). Future Atlantic storms for 2011 have been assigned names such as Lee, Nate, Sean, Tammy, and Vince.
What may be less well-known is that each region of the world has their own list of names for hurricanes and tropical storms which crop up in that area; and it's interesting to see how the names chosen reflect the cultures of the areas in which they fall.
The Atlantic names already mentioned are very British, with the odd spattering of American: other names on the six-year list include Emily and Franklin, Ophelia and Bret, Joaquin and Nicholas. Stiff-upper-lipped, with a rather more interesting influence from across the pond cropping up now and again.
You can quite easily imagine that, if the UK had a hurricane region all to itself, each storm would be named Churchill, or Blair, or Thatcher, or Charles. But we have to share with those darn Yanks: and so we place emphasis on reserving our Britishness as if conducting some kind of quaint rebellion. Florence is a name earmarked for next year; Sebastien for 2013; Tobias in 2016. Thank goodness for our US friends jazzing it up a bit.
However, once the Americans get hold of their own hurricane region, and get to name their own storms, they really get excited. The Eastern North Pacific Names read like the cast list from Grease, or South Pacific: names like Eugene, Todd, Bud, Vance, and Winnifred (because there's always an exception to the rule, along with Hurricane Boris, who will strike in 2014).
Move West across the earth, and you're looking at predictably Asian names: Ekeka, Malia, Vongfong (no relation to Vodafone), and Choi-wan. Moving south, and into India, the names reflect what you would expect: Akash, Gonu, Nisha, and so on. Fijian storm names are an eclectic mix of the traditional and those which hark back to British colonialism: Rae sits alongside Percy, Cyril alongside Drena.
And then you get to Australia. The Antipodean climate seems to be as laid-back as its people, with just 8 tropical cyclones in 2009-10; and the names fit perfectly with this relaxed perception. You can just picture the members of the Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology gathered around a table, thinking up storm names (none of them are wearing suits, by the way, instead favouring baggy shorts and flip-flops).
And they've come up with some corkers. 2011 will see storms with such names as Billy, Freddy, Tasha and - bizarrely - Hamish. Next year, Australians will probably see cyclones named Dianne, Iggy, and Rusty as a good opportunity to sprint down the beach clutching a surfboard to catch a few good waves. And then, in 2013, the world will experience the force of a storm named Bruce, the most Australian storm ever known.
If I'm ever unlucky enough to have first-hand experience of a hurricane, I hope it's an Australian one. They just sound so relaxed.
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