Why hurricanes are named, when names began

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Tropical storms and hurricanes are given names to avoid confusion when more than one storm is being followed at the same time. A storm is named when it reaches tropical storm strength with winds of 39 mph. A storm becomes a hurricane when its wind speed reaches 75 mph.

Separate sets of hurricane names are used in the central Pacific, eastern Pacific, and the Atlantic Basin, which includes the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. The World Meteorological Organization's Region 4 Hurricane Committee selects the names for Atlantic Basin storms. The names are English, Spanish and French - the languages spoken in the national Atlantic Basin storms hit. They alternate between male and female names. The group has selected six sets of names, which means each set of names is used again each six years.

Forecasters begin using names in 1950. In that year and in 1951, names were from the international phonetic alphabet in use at the time - Able, Baker, Charlie, etc. Female, English-language names were used beginning in 1953.

Alternating male and female names were first used to name Atlantic Basin hurricanes in 1979. This was also the first year that French and Spanish names, as well as English, were used. The first three male names used, Bob, David and Frederick have all been retired because they did tremendous damage. Frederick and David were retired because of the damage they did in 1979. Bob was retired after a hurricane by that name hit New England in 1991.

The first storm each year in the Atlantic Basin and in the eastern Pacific gets an 'A' name. But the year's first hurricane in the central Pacific from 140 degrees west longitude to the International Date Line and the first typhoon west of the Date Line get the next available name on the list, no matter what letter it begins with..

Source: The USA TODAY Weather Book by Jack Williams