NJ Weather 101: ees-ah-EE’-ahs – How in the world do hurricanes get their names?
By now, you hopefully know about Tropical Storm Isaias, set to arrive in New Jersey on Tuesday. If you're not familiar with this very wet and windy forecast, please see the latest post in my weather blog.
Do you know how many e-mails and phone calls we've gotten at the radio station complaining about my on-air pronunciation of Isaias? I fully realize that in the English language, you just want to say eye-ZAY-uhs. But here it is, straight from the National Hurricane Center's official Atlantic Pronunciation Guide.
Say it with me now... ees-ah-EE-ahs. I promise I've been pronouncing it exactly right. (I've been practicing. A lot.) The name Isaias is of Spanish origin, and is usually spelled with an accent over the second i — Isaías. Knowing that little tidbit probably makes it a little easier — you almost have to say it with a little Spanish flair or accent.
(Special shout-out and muchas gracias to my Spanish teachers in middle and high school — Señora Lamont, Señora Charleston, y Señora Richardson!)
It's actually the second storm this year with an odd pronunciation. Remember Cristobal, which made landfall in SE Louisiana in early June? Not CRISTobal, but rather cristObal.
Who comes up with this stuff???
Since 1979, the responsibility of naming hurricanes has fallen upon the World Meteorological Organization, an agency of the United Nations. They came up with six rotating lists for the North Atlantic basin, which alternate between male and female names. The lists use popular names largely from English, Spanish, and French, to reflect the language and culture of the region. There are 21 storm names on the list for each year, omitting the letters Q, U, X, Y, and Z. If we run out of names during an active season, names progress to the Greek alphabet. That has happened only once in 2005. (And might happen again in 2020, a record-breaking year for named tropical storms and hurricanes in the Atlantic.)
Here are the six rotating lists of Atlantic tropical cyclone names, from the National Hurricane Center.
Did your name make the list?
When a storm is particularly notable — meaning it causes a lot of damage or deaths — it is officially "retired" from the list by the Hurricane Committee of the WMO. They meet once a year to make such decisions, replacing a retired hurricane name with a new one (same gender, same initial).
This is, in fact, the first time we have a storm named Isaias in the Atlantic basin. It was added to the list after Ike was retired following the 2008 hurricane season.
In case you're curious, here are the 89 names that have been officially retired from the Atlantic hurricane list since 1950, again according to the NHC.
(Note: No retirement decisions have been made yet for the 2019 season, as the annual meeting of the WMO Hurricane Committee was postponed due to COVID-19. Dorian will almost certainly be added to the retired list.)
I think I speak for most in the meteorological community and all residents along the U.S. East Coast, as I look forward to saying Adios to Isaias — the storm and the name — later this week.
Dan Zarrow is Chief Meteorologist for Townsquare Media New Jersey. His love of weather was sparked by a childhood fascination of hurricanes. And he is excited to potentially track his own storm, Tropical Storm Danny, again in 2021. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter for the latest forecast and realtime weather updates.