On October 29th 2012, Hurricane Sandy hit New York. Some 200 people died and the costs were put at $71 billion, a toll that has been surpassed only by the fury of Hurricane Katrina, which struck New Orleans in 2005. But neither Sandy nor Katrina will ever strike again: meteorologists promptly retired both names.

In a Nutshell :  The United Nations’ World Meteorological Organisation chooses storm names from lists that are recycled every 6 years, but discards those that have been attached to storms of dreadful destruction. Controversial ones like Adolf and Isis have also been struck off.

 How did this Convention come about?

Unsurprisingly, a system that appeared to describe a politician as “causing great distress” or “wandering aimlessly about the Pacific” encountered resistance.

For several hundred years, Caribbean islanders, who seemed to face the wrath of God with great frequency, named hurricanes after saints. But storm-naming was haphazard. In the 1850s an Atlantic storm that wrecked a boat named Antje became “Antje’s hurricane“, while another that hit Florida on Labour Day took the name, “Labour Day“.

At the end of the 19th century, Clement Wragge, an Australian forecaster, tried to impose a system, naming storms after letters of the Greek alphabet. When the Australian government refused to recognise this, he began naming hurricanes after politicians instead. Unsurprisingly, a system that appeared to describe a politician as “causing great distress” or “wandering aimlessly about the Pacific” encountered resistance. Another approach was to describe hurricanes by the latitude and longitude co-ordinates that had enabled meteorologists to track them. But this was unhelpful to those who lived on the coast and relied on succinct life-saving counsel over the radio.

the media delighted in describing “tempestuous” female hurricanes, “teasing” & “flirting” with coastlines. Women’s rights activists campaigned against the practice.

Today’s official practice of naming hurricanes began in 1950, when storms were called after phonetic alphabets then used by American servicemen (Able, Baker, Charlie). These names were short and tripped lightly off tongues and keyboards. Exchanging notes among thousands of scattered radio stations, ships at sea and coastal bases became easier. The new technique proved particularly useful when two storms of varying ferocity occurred at the same time. However, only two years later, in 1952, a new international phonetic alphabet was adopted (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, and so on) causing some confusion. so, following the naval meteorologists who named storms after their wives, the American National Hurricane Center began using female names. The practice proved popular – and controversial. The media delighted in describing “tempestuous” female hurricanes, “teasing” and “flirting” with coastlines. Women’s- rights activists campaigned against the practice, and ever since 1978, storm names have alternated between the sexes.

 What’s in a Name – The Psychology of Male vs Female Names?

Such names matter more than one might expect. In 2014 a study by researchers at Arizona State University and the University of Illinois found that hurricanes with feminine names killed more people than those with masculine ones. This has little to do with their ferocity, which was randomly distributed, but rather with people’s reactions to them. It seems that tropical storms with women’s names are taken less seriously than those with male names.