By Philip Eden
Political correctness surfaced in the meteorological world in the 1970s - surprisingly early for a scientific discipline which was in those days run in the main by dusty old bureaucrats. Australia, not normally regarded as a trail-blazer in these things, was the first country to ditch the practice of calling hurricanes (known as 'cyclones' in Australian waters) exclusively by girls' names. The National Weather Service of the USA followed in 1978, and from then on each new season's list of hurricane names alternates between boys and girls.
During the last several years, unannounced and almost unnoticed, this political correctness has advanced to a new level. Hispanic and francophone names are now, one by one, replacing English ones.
There are only six lists for each of the tropical storm regions, including the Atlantic/Caribbean zone. Thus the list for 2013 is essentially the same as that used in 2007, 2001, 1995 and 1989. There are exceptions. When a particular hurricane is so destructive that it become a major headline grabber, the name is replaced in subsequent years. This is to ensure that there is no confusion between historic hurricanes when they are discussed in history texts or scientific papers.
For instance there will only ever be one hurricane Hugo - the one that rampaged through the Caribbean and the Carolinas in 1989 (the 1983 season was so quiet that the letter "H" was not reached). The name Hugo was replaced by - wait for it - Humberto.
This year's list for the Atlantic/Caribbean sector has a strange mix of names. The season kicks off with Andrea, followed by Barry, Chantal, Dorian, Erin and Fernand. Historically, the quietest seasons only manage five or six named storms, but quite often we reach as far as "L" or "M". So after Fernand we have Gabrielle, Humberto, Ingrid, Jerry, Karen, Lorenzo and Melissa. The busiest season of the last century, in 1995, brought 19 hurricanes and tropical storms, so the list of available names continues with Nestor, Olga, Pablo, Rebekah, Sebastien and Tanya, and just for luck we can also call upon Van and Wendy.
Not all of these will make hurricane status which is achieved when winds in the storm's circulation reach a sustained speed of 74 mph or more. Tropical depressions are named when they reach tropical-storm intensity with sustained winds of 39 mph or more.
By Philip Eden