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Wavescape - Surfing in South Africa

Mon, 6 March 2017

In this wild and crazy season of Indian Ocean cyclones, which seems to be shaping up as one of the worst in a while, Spike looks at the history and naming convention of tropical storms.


DINEO: Cyclone Dineo hits southern Mozambique last month. Photo NASA

mp3Interview with Spike on Tropical Storms - Cape Talk 567AM, February 2017

During an interview with Koketso Sachane on Cape Talk recently, I discovered that Cyclone Dineo, the recent storm that came before the current beast Enawo grinding down the eastern seaboard of Madagascar, takes its name from a Sotho word.

Dineo means 'Gift'. I am sure that many folk in southern Mozambique who got lambasted by the fury of this cyclone would beg to differ. But of course, as you may know, you cannot change the name of a cyclone once it's been named.

That's because the names of storms for the world's "tropical Cyclone basins" - or regions - are predetermined from lists managed by an international committee of the World Meterogical Organisation (WMO), which 191 countries belong to. Here is the current list for the 2016/17 cyclone season in the southwest Indian Ocean region in alternating male / female sequence:

Abela, Bransby, Carlos, Dineo, Enawo, Fernando, Gabekile, Herold, Irondro, Jeruto, Kundai, Lisebo, Michel, Nousra, Olivier, Pokera, Quincy, Rebaone, Salama, Tristan, Ursula, Violet, Wilson, Xila, Yekela and Zaina.


VALENTINES STORMS: Sometimes you have two in the ocean at once. Photo Windytv.com

You will note quite a few languages in the list, from Portuguese, to English, to Zulu and so on, so there is an attempt by the scientific arbiters of twirlies to be representative of a region. The WMO website says that six lists are used in rotation, which means that the current list was last used in 2010.

If a storm becomes deadly and takes on certain sensivities after major loss of life, it is replaced at the annual meeting of the WMO tropical cyclone committees. Some notorious examples are Sandy (USA, 2012), Katrina (USA, 2005) and Tracy (Darwin, 1974). What determines how deadly is objective, I imagine. Most storms cause damage and some deaths.

The naming convention of storms "began years ago to help in the quick identification of storms in warning messages because names are presumed to be far easier to remember than numbers and technical terms. Many agree that appending names to storms makes it easier for the media to report on tropical cyclones, heightens interest in warnings and increases community preparedness."

“In the beginning, storms were named arbitrarily. An Atlantic storm that ripped off the mast of a boat named Antje became known as Antje’s hurricane."

Apparently, the mid-1900s saw the start of using feminine names for storms, but by the end of the 1900s, male names were being used for storms in the southern hemisphere.

Eventually by 1979, male the gender neutral system came into play, and males and females were treated equally. The classification is alphabetical starting with A and ending with Z but if they run out of names, the Greek alphabet is used. That seldom happens.

Now you know some trivia to impress your dinner guests.


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