The first cyclone for 2017 has officially hammered the north Queensland coast. But as the cleanup begins, you might be wondering where the name even came from. I mean – Debbie? Turns out the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) has a finely tuned naming system, and it goes something like this:
1. There’s a list
The BOM is responsible for naming tropical cyclones in the Australian region, and they have a predetermined alphabetical list that alternates between male and female names. They assure us the list is long, with enough names to last at least the next ten years. So what’s after Debbie? Watch out for Ernie, Frances, Greg, Hilda and Irving.
2. A guy called Clement Rag started it all
Back in 1887, Mr Clement Rag started naming cyclones after letters in the greek alphabet, mythological creatures and political figures. When Rag left meteorology around 1902, the tradition faded, only to be brought back in 1964, when tropical cyclone Bessie blew in off the coast of western Australia. Bessie became the first Australian cyclone to be officially named by the Bureau.
3. Cyclones started off female
Like cars and boats, cyclones were initially stuck with female names. But in 1975, as part of International Women’s Year, the Australian Science Minister got wise to the ridiculous gender bias and ordered that cyclones be given both male and female names. Thankfully, the world followed.
4. There could be a Debbie 2. But there’ll only be one Larry
According to the BOM, cyclone names can be reused, but if a cyclone causes significant damage, like Tracy in 1974, or Larry in 2006, the name is permanently retired. Also, if the next name on the list matches the name of a prominent person, they’ll graciously move on.
5. What about Yasi?
If a cyclone forms in another region, then moves into Australian territory, it keeps its original name from that region’s weather agency. For example, the 2011 cyclone Yasi, which formed near Fiji.
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6. You too can name a cyclone
Surprisingly, the BOM receives a lot of requests from the public to name cyclones after themselves and friends (?). Requests are received in writing, and the name is then added to a supplementary list. But the BOM warn that the waiting list is longer than even a daycare list, with projected waiting time to be well over 50 years.
If you’re still keen, the following letters are closed due to popular demand.
- Male: A, B, F, J, R, S, T, WXYZ
- Female: A, B, G, J, K, L, M, N, PQ, R, S, T, WXYZ
All the most up-to-date cyclone information and warnings can be found on the BOM website.