A hurricane may seem less threatening it when it’s called “Barry.”
But don’t be fooled — the powerful tropical storm is projected to flood portions of Louisiana and drench much of the lower Mississippi Valley until next week.
Barry is expected to make landfall as a Category 1 hurricane Saturday morning and will affect millions of Americans from the Gulf Coast through the Mississippi Valley.
So how does the process of naming storms work? Here’s a breakdown:
There’s a list of names to pick from
A United Nations World Meteorological Organization committee compiles a list of names, according to the National Hurricane Center.
One list is created every six years for Atlantic hurricanes. The only time that list may change is when a hurricane or storm is so deadly or costly, the future use of its name would be inappropriate for sensitivity reasons.
And no, they’re never named after a particular person or in a particular alphabetic sequence. The names are selected to be familiar to the people in each impacted region, according to the World Meteorological Organization.
“Obviously, the main purpose of naming a tropical cyclone/hurricane is basically for people easily to understand and remember the tropical cyclone/hurricane in a region, thus to facilitate tropical cyclone/hurricane disaster risk awareness, preparedness, management and reduction,” the organization says.
If more than 21 named tropical cyclones occur in a season, storms will begin taking names from the Greek alphabet, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Think: Hurricane Alpha, Beta, Gamma).
The names are meant to be remembered
Officials adopted short, distinctive names to be able to describe a storm quicker and avoid errors.
“These advantages are especially important in exchanging detailed storm information between hundreds of widely scattered stations, coastal bases, and ships at sea,” the center says.
For a couple hundred years, hurricanes in the West Indies took their names from the calendar of saints.
For example, there was “San Felipe” the first and “San Felipe” the second, both which hit Puerto Rico in 1876 and then 1928.
In the US, hurricanes and tropical storms were tracked by the year and order in which they occurred until the mid-1900s, NOAA says.
That was both time-consuming and confusing.
So the US began using female names for storms and later added male names for all Northern Pacific storms. At the time, meteorologists believed that female names were appropriate for storms due to “such characteristics of hurricanes as unpredictability.”
When, in the 1970s, women began speaking up against the practice and society began becoming increasingly aware of sexism, the male-female system was adopted, a 2014 report states.
No, tornadoes don’t get similar treatment
The only natural phenomena that are marked with the human-like feature are tropical storms and hurricanes.
Other major phenomena — tornadoes, severe thunderstorms and blizzards — don’t get the same treatment.