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Cyclone Fani makes landfall in Odisha: Why do we name catastrophes and how tropical cyclones get their names

Cyclone Fani, India's strongest summer-time tropical cyclone in the last 20 years, has hit the Odisha coast Friday morning near Puri. The landfall process has triggered downpour coupled with squally wind reaching up to the wind speed of 210 kilometres per hour in coastal Odisha. However, the governments of the states falling in the path of the cyclonic storm had prepared in advance on a war footing and over 11 lakh people have been evacuated out of harm's way.

While a major chunk of this preparedness was possible, thanks to India's weather analysts and a robust network of satellites that could foresee the situation beforehand, a calamity-like situation was also mitigated owing to effective public communication. Quick error-free communication between various nodal agencies of the government, the Central and the state power centres as well as the general public is key in mobilising resources to brace up for the natural disaster. Giving a cyclone a short, distinctive name is surprisingly crucial in this process.

 Cyclone Fani makes landfall in Odisha: Why do we name catastrophes and how tropical cyclones get their names

Cyclone Fani makes landfall in Odisha. Team101 Reporters

Why name a calamity?

According to National Hurricane Centre, US states that experience shows the practice of naming cyclone makes written as well as spoken communications faster and less subject to error as compared to the older, more cumbersome latitude-longitude identification methods. Furthermore, the use of easily remembered names greatly reduces confusion when two or more tropical storms occur at the same time.

The Indian Meteorological Department also reinstates this view adding that it helps in the quick identification of storms in warning messages because names are presumed to be far easier to remember than the numbers and technical terms.

Initially, the storms were named arbitrarily in the absence of a global mechanism to monitor and document their occurrences. Then the mid-1900's saw the start of the practice of using feminine names for storms originated. The tropical storms and hurricanes were tracked by year and the order in which they occurred during that year.

For at least 150 years, storm names were “fraught with racism and sexism, personal preferences and vendettas,” reports Atlas Obscura. “Their names have also been borrowed from places and saints, wives and girlfriends, and disliked public figures.”

It’s not entirely clear why, but the maritime tradition of referring to the ocean as a woman may have played a factor, reported History.com.

But in pursuit of a more organised and efficient naming system, meteorologists later decided to identify storms using names from a list arranged alphabetically. Thus, a storm with a name which begins with A, like Anne, would be the first storm to occur in the year.

Before the end of 1900's, forecasters started using male names for those forming in the Southern Hemisphere. The History.com report states that the patriarchal practice did not go down without a fight. Women weather analysts and leading women's rights activists helped persuade US weather forecasters not to name tropical storms after only women. Roxcy Bolton, the activist famed with setting up the first-ever rape treatment centre, was one of the dissenters to have brought about the change.

Now the tropical cyclones are named neither after any particular person nor with any preference in alphabetical sequence. The names selected are those that are familiar to the people in each region.

Follow LIVE updates on Cyclone Fani here

The names are officially chosen by one of the eleven warning centres spread across the globe under the aegis of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).  All cyclone names are submitted to the World Meteorological Organization Regional Tropical Cyclone Committee for the SE Pacific for final approval. This committee can (and often does) reject or adjust names that are submitted to it and may substitute their own name. The process also involves several countries in the region. A name is selected on the basis of a popular mandate.

"The main purpose of naming a tropical cyclone is basically for people to easily understand and remember the tropical cyclone in a region, thus to facilitate tropical cyclone disaster risk awareness, preparedness, management and reduction," WMO says in its explanation of how cyclones are named.

The WMO/ESCAP Panel on Tropical Cyclones at its twenty-seventh Session held in 2000 in Muscat, Sultanate of Oman agreed in principle to assign names to the tropical cyclones in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea. After long deliberations among the member countries, the naming of the tropical cyclones over the north Indian Ocean commenced from September 2004.

For tropical cyclones developing in the North Indian Ocean, countries like India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Maldives, Myanmar, Oman, Pakistan and Thailand send their names to the regional tropical cyclone committee. At present, all eight countries have submitted eight names each for naming future cyclones. The name Fani was chosen from this list containing 64 names.

Table for naming tropical cyclones for the Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea. Source: World Meteorological Organization

Table for naming tropical cyclones for the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea. Source: World Meteorological Organization

The first name will start from the first row of column one and continue sequentially to the last row in column eight. Example, this will be as Onil, Hibaru, Pyar, Baaz …………. Amphan. The names which have been already used from the list are highlighted. These lists are used sequentially, and they are not rotated every few years as are the Atlantic and Eastern Pacific lists.

The name for this year's cyclone, Fani, was chosen by Bangladesh. The word (pronounced as Foni) means snake.

Do you want to name a cyclone?

If you want to suggest the name of a cyclone to be included in the list, the proposed name must meet some fundamental criteria. The name should be short and readily understood when broadcast. Also, the names must not be culturally sensitive and not convey some unintended and potentially inflammatory meaning.

One may also suggest a name to Director General of Meteorology, India Meteorological Department, for consideration.

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Updated Date: May 03, 2019 11:44:23 IST