Earlier this week, a petition emerged on the internet calling for the World Meteorological Association to change Hurricane Irma’s name to Hurricane Ivanka. Although the petition quickly went viral, it is unlikely that the World Meteorological Association will veer away from the system they’ve had in place for over 60 years.
Hurricanes and tropical storms used to be referred to by the order in which they occurred. The system worked, although it was confusing when two storms developed around the same time. And it wasn’t uncommon for radio stations to broadcast information about a different storm entirely.
To make things easier, the World Meteorological Organization developed a list of names that would rotate every six years. As storms develop, meteorologists advance through the list of alphabetical names, which is sent out long in advance.
The names themselves date back to 1979. Originally, when the idea of naming storms was nascent, scientists just used female names, mimicking the old practice of sailors. But in 1978, male names were thrown into the mix. This six-year-long list of names has been used ever since, save for a few exceptions. Particularly impactful hurricanes — for example, Katrina or Sandy — may be retired from use to avoid any future confusion. The United Nations World Meteorological Association holds a meeting every year to discuss business, which includes replacing any retired names.
The letters Q, U, X, Y, and Z are omitted from the list. If, for any reason, there are more than 21 storms in a given season, meteorologists will revert to the Greek alphabet (Alpha, Beta, Gamma, etc).
Ivanka is not on the list, but if the name “Irma” retires this year, perhaps it could be added to the rotation.