For several hundred years many hurricanes in the West Indies were named after the particular saint's day on which the hurricane occurred. For example, there was Hurricane Santa Ana which struck Puerto Rico with exceptional violence on July 26, 1825, and San Felipe (the first) and San Felipe (the second) which hit Puerto Rico on September 13 in both 1876 and 1928.
Clement Wragge, Director of the Queensland state meteorological department at the end of the 19th century, is credited with being the first person to systematically name storms after real people. The idea never really caught on. But it was revived in the 1940s by the American Weather Bureau when short-wave radio came into general use for the transmission of weather forecasts and warnings to shipping and aviation. Giving hurricanes nicknames was a very simple and quick way of identifying a particular storm from one day to the next. In 1953 the National Weather Service began using female names for storms.
For many years hurricanes and other tropical storms bore only girls' names. In that era when political correctness had never been heard of, the exclusively male meteorological community in the USA considered female names appropriate for such unpredictable and dangerous phenomena. In the 1970s the growing numbers of female meteorologists began object to such a sexist practice, and from 1978 onwards girls' and boys' names alternated.
Hurricanes that have a severe impact on lives or the economy are remembered by generations after the devastation they caused, and some go into weather history. Whenever a hurricane has had a major impact, any country affected by the storm can request that the name of the hurricane be "retired" by agreement of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).
Retiring a name actually means that it cannot be reused for at least 10 years, to facilitate historic references, legal actions, insurance claim activities, etc. and avoid public confusion with another storm of the same name. If that happens, a like gender name is selected in English, Spanish or French for Atlantic Storms. For example, Andrew retired in 1992, Gilbert 1988, Hugo 1989, Mitch 1998 and Lili in 2002.
The official list for hurricane names has been introduced by the NWS and is now regularly updated and maintained by the World Meteorological Organisation, covering not only the Atlantic/carribean sector, but all tropical cyclone areas. For the Atlantic sector six lists are used in rotation. Thus, the 2002 list will be used again in 2008.
2004's list of hurricane names starts with the official beginning of the season on June 1. The first storm of the season will be Alex, followed by Bonnie, Charley, Danielle, Earl, Frances, Gastom and Hermione. In some years we have no more than eight named storms, but if we have a busy season as in 2003 we will have to call upon Ivan, Jeanne, Karl, Lisa and Matthew. Rarely do we get beyond the letter "M", but just in case the list continues with Nicole, Otto, Paula, Richard, Shary, Tomas, Virginie and Walter.