Why do storms even need names?
Names are chosen in order to easily identify storms to the public and to prevent confusion when two storms occur at the same time. Though it’s not typical to see two storms at once, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.
An example of this was when Cyclones Trevor and Veronica loomed over northern Australia in 2019. Without these names, there would have been a lot of confusion when these storms were being described in forecasts, watches, and warnings.
The name game
While Queensland can also lay claim to having invented the multifocal contact lens, the inflatable aircraft escape slide and the mighty pineapple peeler, one Queenslander can also boast the invention of the storm naming system that is used worldwide today.
In the mid-1890s, Queensland meteorologist Clement Wragge began naming tropical cyclones in alphabetical order, using the Greek alphabet, mythological characters, and finally, politicians who annoyed him.
Said to be quite a mischievous character, Wragge’s naming system allowed him to publicly announce that certain officials were causing ‘great distress’ or ‘wandering aimlessly around the pacific’.
When Wragge retired in 1908, the alphabetical naming system fell into disuse and another system wasn’t properly introduced until 1964. It was then that the Bureau of Meteorology began using female names for storms, starting with Cyclone Bessie. Other countries quickly adopted this system and the practice became used worldwide.
But why would volatile storms only be named after women? In 1975, which was ‘International Women’s Year’, Australian science minister Bill Morrison objected that only women were named. Morrison recognised that devastating storms should be named after both sexes and was the first person in the world to add male names to the list.