The Naming of Cyclones

T.S. Eliot said, about the naming of cats:

‘The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn’t just one of your holiday games’

The naming of cyclones is surely at least as serious!

We have just been reckoning with the damage caused by Fani. Thanks to the excellent predictions and forecasts, as well as the concerted efforts of government authorities, damage has been minimized. Yet, lives have been lost and there is much rehabilitation to be done. We all need to do our bit.

But why was the cyclone named Fani? Why do cyclones have names at all? Doesn’t it sound a bit like trivializing a serious matter?

Well, no. Cyclones are given names to simplify communications and avoid confusion. It is important for forecasters to keep in touch with each other, and for governments to give information on cyclones to the general public. Since the storms can often last a week or longer, and more than one cyclone can be occurring in the same region at the same time, names can reduce the confusion about what storm is being described. The normal practice is that once storms produce sustained wind speeds of more than 34 knots, names are assigned from predetermined lists depending on which basin they originate.

Every region forms a committee of nations who are more prone to cyclones or hurricanes. For the Indian ocean region, Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Myanmar, Oman, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Thailand form the Committee, and the governing body is the Regional Specialised Meteorological Centre (RCMC), New Delhi. This is the body which assigns names for cyclones originating in our region.

Each nation making up the Committee prepares a list of ten names which they think are suitable to be assigned to a cyclone. Out of each country-list, RSMC selects eight names and prepares eight lists which consist of the names approved by the governing body. The names of cyclones are not allocated in alphabetical order, but rather, the countries are arranged alphabetically, and the names selected from each country in the list, one by one.

Fani is a name contritued by Bangladesh. Names contributed by India are Jal, Agni, Vayu, Akash, Bijli, Lahar, Megh and Sagar.

Starting World War II till about 1979, cyclones were generally named after women. This practice was modified in 1979 by adding men’s names. Now names are by and large not personal names. Most are names of flowers, animals, birds, trees, or even foods, etc, while some are descriptive adjectives.

So at least in this matter, some amount of gender sensitivity has been brought in, and destructive forces are not tagged with exclusively feminine names!

–Meena

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