Christening Cyclones

Bijli, Leher, Sagar and Pyarr…believe it or not, these are names of tropical cyclones and not the latest box-office releases.

Meteorologists in India have now started naming cyclones that lash the Indian Ocean region. In fact a body, by the name of Regional Specialised Meterological Centre in the Indian Meterological Department, New Delhi has been assigned this responsibility. Thus, the names Pyarr (by the way, it is a Myanmarese word meaning ‘flattened’), Baaz and Fanoos recently took the country by storm!

Tropical cyclones (referred to interchangeably as ‘typhoon’ in Northwestern Pacific or ‘hurricane’ in North Atlantic and Northeastern Pacific) are formed within seven regions around the world called ‘basins’. Since more than one storm can occur in the same basin at a particular time, meteorologists need a means to identify individual storms to avoid confusion. Assigning a name rather than a number or date makes it easier for them to communicate details regarding cyclonic forecasts, watches and warnings. Hence, all storms that have maximum sustained wind speed of 62 km/hr are given names.

So, how did this all begin?

Naming of storms has been prevalent in the West since the late 19th century. Early nomenclature strategies were individualistic and informal. Subsequently, latitude and longitude were used, but this system turned out to be complicated and prone to errors.

The first use of names for tropical cyclones was by an Australian named Clement Wragge (aptly called ‘Inclement’ Wragge), who used feminine names and names of politicians whom he didn’t like. Naming of storms became so popular that during World War II, air force and navy forecasters gave their wives and girlfriends the distinction of having storms named after them. These naming systems led to severe criticism and hence were discontinued. Between 1950-1952, tropical cyclones of the North Atlantic Ocean were identified by phonetic alphabets - Able, Baker, Charlie etc.

It was in 1953 that the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) developed a systematic way of naming cyclones in the beginning of the year, with female names arranged in an alphabetical order. Since 1979, they have switched to a list of names that included male names as well. The first three male names were Bob, David and Frederick. Interestingly, all three have been retired because of the tremendous damage they caused. Presently, the member countries of the WMO name the cyclones through different regional committees.

For countries in the Indian Ocean region, there was no set procedure for naming the cyclones till 2004 as no consensus could be reached regarding the names, due to sensitivities of people and religions. Following a meeting in 2003, it was decided that the Indian Ocean rim countries – Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Myanmar, Oman, Pakistan Srilanka and Thailand – would name cyclones after abstract bodies. These countries called the WMO Tropical Cyclone ESCAP Panel (ESCAP - Economic and Social Council for Asia Pacific), subsequently prepared a list, which consisted of 64 cyclonic names, which will be used sequentially and once only. This list would be effective until 2009, after which a fresh list of names will be drawn.

Contributing Nations
List 1
List 2
List 3
List 4
Bangladesh Onil Ogni Nisha Giri
India Agni Akash Bijli Jal
Maldives Hibaru Gonu Aila Keila
Myanmar Pyarr Yemyin Phyan Thane
Oman Baaz Sidr Ward Mujan
Pakistan Fanoos