Cyclone Asani: Aila, Amphan, Asani: What’s in the name of a cyclone?

Each year when a cyclone makes appearances over a region, its name becomes a source of fascination for many who wonder why and how the storm is christened.

With Cyclone Asani – a Sri Lankan name meaning ‘wrath’ in Sinhala – forming in the Bay of Bengal on Sunday morning and heading towards the east coast, the same question arises again.

According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), a United Nations agency, there can be more than one cyclone at a time in a given geographic location or around the world, and systems can last a week or more.

Therefore, each tropical storm is given a name to avoid confusion and to facilitate disaster risk awareness, management and mitigation.

Short, easy-to-pronounce names help disseminate detailed storm information quickly and effectively among hundreds of scattered stations, shore bases, and vessels at sea.

It is less error-prone than the older and more cumbersome methods of identifying latitude and longitude.

Since 1953, Atlantic tropical storms have been named from lists compiled by the National Hurricane Center in the United States.

In the beginning, storms were named arbitrarily. From the mid-20th century female names for storms were used. Meteorologists later decided to name storms from a list for a more organized and efficient system, the WMO explained on its website.

There are six Regional Specialized Meteorological Centers (RSMCs) and five regional tropical cyclone warning centers worldwide that are tasked with issuing warnings and designating cyclones.

The India Meteorological Department (IMD) is one of the RSMCs and is tasked with giving a title to a cyclone forming over the northern Indian Ocean when it has reached a maximum sustained surface wind speed of 62 km/h or greater.

Cyclone designation in the Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea began in September 2004. The IMD provides cyclone and storm surge warnings for 13 countries in the northern Indian Ocean.

The list is ordered by the names given by alphabetically ordered counties that are gender-neutral, politically, religiously, and culturally neutral. It is used sequentially, column by column.

The designation should not exist in the existing list of six RSMCs. The name of a South China Sea storm crossing Thailand and emerging into the Bay of Bengal will not be changed.

Once a name is used, it will not be repeated again. The word, which can have a maximum of eight letters, should not offend any member country or hurt the feelings of any community.

A new list of 169 names was published in 2020, including 13 names from 13 countries. Eight countries had previously assigned 64 designations.

Names from India that have been used are Gati (speed), Megh (cloud), Akash (sky). Other designations formerly used were Ogni, Helen and Fani from Bangladesh; and Laila, Nargis and Bulbul from Pakistan.

The cyclone that will form after Asani is called a sitrang, a name given by Thailand.

Future names include Ghurni, Probaho, Jhar and Murasu from India, Biparjoy (Bangladesh), Asif (Saudi Arabia), Diksam (Yemen) and Toofan (Iran), and Shakhti (Sri Lanka).

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