The pioneering Australian weatherman Clement Wragge began assigning names to tropical cyclones in the late 19th century, initially using the letters of the Greek alphabet and characters from Greek and Roman mythology.
An eccentric and playful fellow, he later turned to the names of local politicians he particularly disliked; as a result, he was able to state in public forecasts that the officials were “causing great distress” or “wandering aimlessly about the Pacific.”
Needless to say, Wragge’s subtly hostile approach didn’t take the meteorology profession by storm.
During World War II, U.S. Air Force and Navy meteorologists plotting storms over the Pacific needed a better way to denote hurricanes while analyzing weather maps.
Many began paying tribute to their wives and girlfriends back home by naming tropical cyclones after them.
In 1945 the newly formed National Weather Bureau—later the National Weather Service—introduced a system based on the military phonetic alphabet, but by 1953 the options had been exhausted.
The next year, the bureau embraced forecasters’ informal practice of giving hurricanes women’s names.
Because America led the world in weather tracking technology at the time, many other countries adopted the new nomenclature.