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Wilkinson: The Name Game

As we mark the fifth anniversary of Tropical Storm Irene, meteorologists are warning that the current hurricane season may be more active than originally predicted, meaning we may need more storm names than we might have thought. This made me wonder when and how a storm gets a name, so I did a little research.

I learned that a tropical storm will be named when it reaches a wind strength of 39 miles per hour. At 74 miles per hour, it becomes a hurricane.

The World Meteorological Organization has a mostly permanent list of hurricane names in alphabetical order up to the letter W.
The practice of naming storms was inspired by a WWII-era novel featuring a fictional character who named storms after his ex-girlfriends. Wartime meteorologists then started naming tropical cyclones after their wives.

There were only female names until 1979, when people realized just how sexist this was. Now male-female names follow an alternate pattern. And let me just say that in this day and age this also seems archaic to me. After all, has anyone ever asked these storms how they identify? But I digress.

Storm nomenclature is on a six year cycle, so this year’s names will be used again in 2022. But once they reach a certain level of notoriety they’re retired. There will never again be a storm named Irene.

Alex kicked off our 2016 list in January. Bonnie arrived Memorial Day weekend - but I remember well her 1998 incarnation when she forced my family and me to evacuate from the Outer Banks.

This June - technically the start of our hurricane season - we met Colin and Danielle. Then came Earl, and now Fiona, who’s presently off the coast of West Africa.

Irene hit Coney Island at 65 miles per hour after ricocheting eight other times up the Atlantic coast. Our roof leaked like a sieve in the downpour. But nearby, friends were frantically shoving what little they could fit into their truck with their dog to drive to the top of their hill as their home was being swallowed up by the White River. Our town of Strafford became an island. But in the end we fared just fine because we have neighbors with big machines and even bigger hearts.

I’m glad the world won’t ever meet another Irene. But a storm of that magnitude by any other name would be just as unwelcome.

From farmer to teacher, Brooke Wilkinson now works to bring music to young children throughout the region. She lives with her husband and two children in Strafford, Vermont.
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