Why did they call her Sandy ?


We are amazed at the excellent preparedness and the active response of the citizens and leaders. Despite the havoc thatSandy wreaked on US, not only did they collectively save many lives by early warnings and efficient evacuations, but they are also helping recovery by responding fast in restoring power lines and restarting transport systems.

From the US President, to the State Governors to the City Mayors, the way the responsibility and authority flowed either ways is a lesson on disaster preparedness and management.

However, I wish to answer here in this column today, some questions that many were asking this week, completely unrelated to disaster management.

The questions– Why did they call this storm ‘Sandy’? And how are these
storms actually named?

I found out, to my surprise, that names of storms for the next year
are already decided. In fact, they are all decided for the next five
years, till 2017!

World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) uses, for Atlantic Storms, six
lists of names in the alphabetical order as they occur in a calendar
year.  The lists are used in rotation. They are re-cycled every six
years. Which means the 2012 list of names will be used again in 2018.
Male and female names are alternately used.

From 1953, the US weather service used women’s names from A to W,
leaving out Q, U, X, Y and  Z. But following protests by women’s
liberation bodies in 60’s and 70’s, male names began to be used from
1978, alternately with female names.

For example, the first Atlantic storm that occurred this year, in
2012, was Alberto, the next was Beryl, the third Chris, the fourth
Debby and the fifth Ernesto. It continued like that but all these are
lesser known names. They were not as deadly as Sandy, the eighteenth.

The only time the list gets changed is if a storm is so deadly or so
costly that the future use of its name would be inappropriate for
reasons of sensitivity.

If such a storm occurs, then at an annual meeting by the WMO committee
(called primarily to discuss many other issues) the offending name is
stricken-off from the list and another name replaces it.

Retired in this way, after the devastation they caused in the years of
their occurrence are Mitch (1998), Iris (2001), Katrina(2005), and
Irene (2011).

Cyclone Nilam, the Indian Ocean storm, also struck the east coast of
India this week. The naming of tropical cyclones, in Indian Ocean, is
a recent phenomenon, unlike the century old practice for Atlantic
storms and hurricanes.

The process of naming cyclones here involves several countries in the
region and is done under the aegis of WMO, again.

Deliberations for naming these cyclones began in 2000 and a formula
was agreed upon in 2004. And, eight countries in the region –
Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Myanmar, Oman, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and
Thailand – all contributed a set of names which are assigned
sequentially whenever a cyclonic storm develops.

The name Nilam was contributed by Pakistan. The Indian names in the
queue are Leher, Megh, Sagar and Vayu, while those suggested by
Pakistan include Nilofar, Titli and Bulbul.

Though complicated, without this nomenclature, life would not be easy
for meteorologists and us.

WMO may not use the name ‘Sandy’ again. But there is no guarantee that
by not using that name we will never have a deadly storm like that.

A storm by any other name would still hurt the same.