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Why Do We Name Hurricanes, And What Happens When We Run Out Of Names?

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NASA / GSFC

Right now, scientists and weather-watchers are keeping a close eye on tropical storm Harvey, along with storms with names like Lee, Ophelia and Vince.

But why do we give these huge storms human names? And who decides on the names? There are rumors that hurricanes are named for politicians, or victims of the Titanic disaster, but that's not true.

To understand the naming rules you need to go back to the 1950s: back then storms were named for the year they formed and their order, or sometimes for their longitude and latitude. This messy system full of long numbers lead to confusion, and mistakes that put lots of people in danger.

So beginning in the 1950s we started assigning human names to hurricanes in an alphabetical order. At first the names were all female, following the tradition of giving ships female names, but men's names were introduced in the 70s.

There are 21 names chosen each year for naming storms and hurricanes, since the letters Q, U, X, Y and Z aren't used - sorry, no hurricane Zach or Yolanda. The names also alternate between male and female names.

But while new names are picked every year, you wouldn't want your suggestion to be chosen.

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