In weather news that we just couldn’t make up right now, a tropical storm named Don is blustering across the Caribbean in the Atlantic Ocean, slowly petering out, just as a new force of nature called Storm Hilary is gathering strength in the Pacific Ocean.
So many jokes, so little time.
Storm Don is “small”, “not particularly well organized”, and expected to fade away quite quickly, according to a forecast discussion by the National Hurricane Center (NHC), part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Tropical Storm Hilary (one "l", unlike the other Hillary), meanwhile, is currently called Tropical Depression 8-E. Right now, it has winds of 56 kilometers (35 miles) per hour, but once these reach 63 kilometers (39 miles) per hour, it will become Storm Hilary. There’s an 80 percent chance of that happening in the next day or so, according to the NHC.
However, former National Hurricane Center director Max Mayfield has insisted that the name of Storm Don is purely coincidental and not a dig at another, similarly named perceived threat to the US.
“I hadn’t even thought about that,” he told Associated Press. “I guarantee you that it has no connection to Donald Trump.”
And he is, of course, right. Storm Don’s name was actually picked out in 2006 when Mayfield was then-director, and nobody predicted the unprecedented (there’s another joke in here too) current government situation (apart from perhaps The Simpsons).
There is an established system in place for naming tropical storms and hurricanes, which began because names were presumed easier to remember than numbers or technical terms, and thus were easier and quicker to communicate in weather warnings. They are named many years in advance by an international committee of meteorologists at the World Meteorological Organization, part of the United Nations.
There are seven storm basins across the world where tropical hurricanes form: the Atlantic, the Eastern Pacific (including the Central Pacific), Northwest Pacific, North Indian, Southwest Indian, Australian/Southeast Indian, and the Australian/Southwest Pacific regions.
Committees covering these storm basins create six lists of names that are rotated every six years, so hurricane names can crop up again on a six-year cycle. However, storms that caused a particular amount of damage or death, for example 2005’s Katrina or 2012's Sandy, are retired out of respect and meteorologists add a new name to the list.
Interestingly, when the naming of hurricanes first emerged in the 1950s, they were only female. It wasn’t until 1979 that men’s names were included and now they alternate. There is also no truth to storms being named in alphabetical order or after people. The names suggested and agreed upon are ones that are either common or likely to be remembered in their particular region, again for the ease of communication.
Hilary is the eighth name on the list for the eastern north Pacific. To put it into perspective, Don was the fourth name on the list and we're only halfway through the year, so the likelihood of Storm Hilary brewing on the horizon is high.