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From Amphan to Asani: How and why are cyclones named?

Adopting names for cyclones makes it easier for people to remember, as opposed to numbers and technical terms.

Anchored boats on the shore at Puri in Odisha as the state braces for Cyclone Asani. (Photo: PTI)

Whenever a cyclone hits a country, the first thing that strikes the minds of most is what these names mean.

When Tauktae hit the western coast of India in May last year, people were seen searching for the origin of the name. The cyclone, which was named by Myanmar, means “gecko” — a highly vocal lizard — in Burmese dialect.

Similarly, Cyclone Asani, which developed over southeast regions of Bay of Bengal and intensified into a ‘severe cyclone’ on Monday, was named by Sri Lanka. Asani means “wrath” in Sinhalese.

So, how are the cyclones named and what are the guidelines on adopting their names? We explain.

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How are the cyclones named?

In 2000, a group of nations called WMO/ESCAP (World Meteorological Organisation/United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific), which comprised Bangladesh, India, the Maldives, Myanmar, Oman, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Thailand, decided to start naming cyclones in the region. After each country sent in suggestions, the WMO/ESCAP Panel on Tropical Cyclones (PTC) finalised the list.

The WMO/ESCAP expanded to include five more countries in 2018 — Iran, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

The list of 169 cyclone names released by IMD in April 2020 were provided by these countries — 13 suggestions from each of the 13 countries.

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Why is it important to name cyclones?

Adopting names for cyclones makes it easier for people to remember, as opposed to numbers and technical terms. Apart from the general public, it also helps the scientific community, the media, disaster managers etc. With a name, it is also easy to identify individual cyclones, create awareness of its development, rapidly disseminate warnings to increase community preparedness and remove confusion where there are multiple cyclonic systems over a region.

What are the guidelines to adopt names of cyclones?

While picking names for cyclones, countries need to follow some rules. If those guidelines are followed, the name is accepted by the panel on tropical cyclones (PTC) that finalises the selection. The guidelines are:

* The proposed name should be neutral to (a) politics and political figures (b) religious believes, (c) cultures and (d) gender

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* Name should be chosen in such a way that it does not hurt the sentiments of any group of population over the globe

* It should not be very rude and cruel in nature

* It should be short, easy to pronounce and should not be offensive to any member

* The maximum length of the name will be eight letters

* The proposed name should be provided with its pronunciation and voice over

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* The names of tropical cyclones over the north Indian Ocean will not be repeated. Once used, it will cease to be used again. Thus, the name should be new.

Some of the names picked by India were suggested by the general public. An IMD committee is formed to finalise the names before sending it to the PTC.

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Here is the list of 104 names. The first cyclone name which was chosen was the one in the first row of the first column — Nisarga by Bangladesh. Next, India’s choice, Gati, was chosen, and so on. Subsequent cyclones are being named sequentially, column-wise, with each cyclone given the name immediately below that of the previous cyclone. Once the bottom of the column is reached, the sequence moves to the top of the next column (in the second image). We are now on Cyclone Asani, as marked in red.

Cyclone Asani was named in Sri Lanka After Sira, the list moves on to Barshon, Vyom, Booran etc.

First published on: 09-05-2022 at 13:14 IST
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