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October 5, 2009

Hurricanes: What’s in A Name?

By: Surfline

The custom of giving names to tropical cyclones began in Australia in the early 1900s in order to reduce confusion in communicating forecasts to the general public. A typically boisterous Aussie forecaster assigned names of unpopular political figures to storms so he could refer to them as “wandering aimlessly around the Pacific” or “causing great distress among the populace.”

The trend caught on in the states during World War II, as meteorologists for our armed forces named hurricanes after their wives or girlfriends, hopefully not for the same reasons as the earlier Australian. In the early ’50s, we switched to the phonetic alphabet (Able, Baker, Charlie, etc.) before returning to an all female revue by decade’s end. With the ’70s came the Equal Rights Movement, earning men equal billing on the storm front.

Each of the world’s seven ocean basins follows its own system of identification. Most still with alternating male/female designations, but in the Northwest Pacific, a new naming scheme was adopted in 2000, whereby proper names were generally replaced with Asian terms for animals, birds, flowers, and even foods. Meanwhile in the unimaginative Northern Indian Ocean, tropical cyclones remain nameless. It’s only a matter of time before the christening of storms becomes corporate business in America, and we’re forced to listen as forecasters remind us that our season’s best swell arrived courtesy of Hurricane HoJo, with locations at several major surfing destinations as well as along evacuation routes from many cities.

The word “Hurricane” has its own unique origins dating all the way back to the ancient Mayans. “Hurakan” was one of their creator gods, responsible for blowing his breath across chaotic water and bringing forth dry land. Later, the Carib Indians altered the term to “Hurican”, and he became their god of everything evil — small wonder considering the meager defenses of Caribbean islands in the face of storms to this day. Needless to say, the University of Miami picked up the name from there, and Americans (overwhelmingly impressed by the college’s powerhouse football squad) offered the name to the destructive tropical cyclones wreaking havoc in the Atlantic. Or was it the other way around?

A hurricane, strictly defined, is “a strong tropical cyclone or non-frontal synoptic scale low-pressure system over tropical or sub-tropical waters with organized convection and definite cyclonic surface wind circulation.” In other words, a big mother of a spinning storm in some really warm water. Sustained winds must remain above 74mph, or the tempest is demoted to Tropical Storm status. Unlike your typical mid-latitude storm with high winds aloft, the strongest winds in a hurricane blow right here on the surface.

2009 NAMES
Atlantic – Ana, Bill, Claudette, Danny, Erika, Fred, Grace, Henri, Ida, Joaquin, Kate, Larry, Mindy, Nicholas, Odette, Peter, Rose, Sam, Teresa, Victor, Wanda

Pacific – Andres, Blanca, Carlos, Dolores, Enrique, Felicia, Guillermo, Hilda, Ignacio, Jimena, Kevin, Linda, Marty, Nora, Olaf, Patricia, Rick, Sandra, Terry, Vivian, Waldo, Xina, York, Zelda

October 2, 2009

House Subcommittee Passes bill addressing Harmful Algal Blooms

The  U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Environment Subcommittee has approved the bill to control Harmful Algal Blooms  (HABs).

The  Committee on Science and Technology’s Energy and Environment Subcommittee approved H.R. 3650,  the Harmful Algal Blooms and Hypoxia Research and Control Amendments Act of 2009. The bill was authored by Energy and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Brian Baird (D-WA) and Research and Science Education Subcommittee Ranking Member Vernon Ehlers (R-MI). This bill requires federal agencies to create a comprehensive and integrated strategy to address and reduce harmful algal blooms and hypoxia (inadequate oxygen in the water).  “Unfortunately,  despite years of research, the frequency and duration of the harmful  algal blooms and hypoxia are on the rise, and affecting more of our  coastlines and inland waters,” said Baird. “This bill directs the  National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to implement research strategies and plans to better understand and respond to  these blooms and hypoxic events.”

In  the release by the Subcommittee, they said, “Harmful algal blooms are a rapid overproduction of algal cells that produce toxins which are hazardous to animals and plants. When the blooms occur, they
block sunlight in water and use up the available oxygen in the water, which causes hypoxia, severe oxygen depletion. The toxins the algae create can be dangerous to people when they drink or swim in the contaminated water or consume seafood that have ingested these toxins. Environmental changes in water quality, temperature, and sunlight or an increase in nutrients in the water can cause blooms to increase dramatically.” The  bill now moves to the full Science and Technology  Committee.

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