Naming of natural disasters: Why, why and how
Whether it's a hurricane, earthquake, tsunami, or wildfire, these events can devastate the communities they affect. When a natural disaster strikes, it is important to have a clear and concise way to communicate about the event. This is where naming natural disasters comes into play, which otherwise seems unimportant.
There are different naming systems for different types of natural disasters. Sometimes, the names are given based on their location or the time of year they occur. In other cases, the names are based on scientific factors, such as wind speed or magnitude.
Hurricanes, for example, are given names based on a predetermined list updated every six years by the World Meteorological Organization.
The names are chosen alphabetically, alternating between male and female names. The names are also rotated between different regions so that no region is consistently associated with particularly severe storms.
For example, the name Maria was used in both the Atlantic and Eastern Pacific regions in 2017 but will not be used again for another six years.
The practice of naming hurricanes began in the 1950s to simplify communication about storms, which can have complex and changing characteristics. By assigning names, meteorologists could more easily track and communicate about hurricanes as they moved across the ocean.
In other cases, natural disasters are named based on their location or the time of year. For instance, in the United States, wildfires are often named based on the location where they started, such as the Tubbs Fire in California in 2017. Similarly, the 2011 tornado outbreak in the southern United States was sometimes called the 'Super Outbreak' because of the large number of tornadoes that occurred in a short period.
Natural disasters are sometimes named based on their severity or magnitude. Earthquakes are often given a magnitude rating based on the Richter scale, developed in the 1930s by American seismologist Charles Richter. The scale ranges from 0 to 10, with each increment representing a tenfold increase in the energy released by the earthquake. Earthquakes with a magnitude of 7 or higher are considered major earthquakes, and those with a magnitude of 9 or higher are considered great earthquakes.
Similarly, volcanic eruptions are often rated based on the Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI), developed in the 1980s by American volcanologist Chris Newhall and British volcanologist Steve Self. The scale ranges from 0 to 8, with each increment representing a tenfold increase in the volume of volcanic material ejected. For example, the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines was given a VEI rating of 6, making it one of the largest volcanic eruptions of the 20th century.
In some cases, the names of natural disasters can also have cultural or historical significance. In Japan, for example, typhoons are often given names associated with animals, flowers, or other natural elements. This practice dates back to the 1950s when the Japan Meteorological Agency began assigning names to typhoons to make them more easily identifiable.
Similarly, in the Caribbean, hurricanes are often given names that reflect the region's cultural heritage, such as Maria, a common name in many Spanish-speaking countries.
While the naming of natural disasters may seem like a trivial matter, it serves an important purpose in communicating about these events. The names let us easily track and communicate about them, which is especially important in the case of severe or ongoing events.
The practice of naming disasters also helps us remember their impact on our communities.