Who named Cyclone 'Gulab'? A brief history of naming Indian Ocean cyclones

Who named Cyclone 'Gulab'? A brief history of naming Indian Ocean cyclones

The names are chosen one after the other from a list, approved by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO).

Tauktae, Amphan, Fani, Titli, Bulbul, Gaja… And now Gulab. As and when cyclones with intriguing names approach the Indian coasts, a common question comes to our minds: who names these storms?

Every Hindi and Urdu speaker would understand that the word ‘Gulab’ (pronounced as Gul-Aab) means Rose. And Pakistan, not India, proposed this name! Similarly, the previous cyclone that hit the east coast of India, Cyclone Yaas, was named as per the proposal from Oman.

But, why do Pakistan and Oman get to name cyclones that hit India? Countries surrounding a particular basin name the storms originating in that basin, usually years before they even form! And therefore, all the 13 countries sharing the Indian Ocean basin have already provided a long list of 169 names, with each country proposing 13 names. The names are chosen one after the other from this list, approved by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO).

History of naming cyclones

The history of naming hurricanes dates back to the early 19th century. Back then, people named storms after the places they hit, names of the saints on whose day the hurricane occurred, or simply the year of their occurrence. Naming tropical cyclones is said to have been initiated by well-known meteorologist Clement Wragge during the late 19th century. However, the naming remained arbitrary during the initial decades. For instance, a storm over the Atlantic in 1842 was known as Antje's hurricane because it ripped off the mast of a boat named Antje.

During the mid 20th century, western meteorologists started naming cyclones using some common women names to distinguish systems when there were multiple systems over a particular ocean basin. Fortunately, this seemingly gender-biased system came to an end by 2000 after several protests. In 1997, Hong Kong proposed using local names for regional cyclones rather than European and American names.

In 2000, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) agreed to start assigning names for cyclones over the North Indian Ocean basin using a list of names suggested by the countries surrounding the ocean basin. Initially, India expressed reservations about naming cyclones. After four years of continuous deliberations, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) initiated the naming of the North Indian Ocean storm with Cyclone Onil in September 2004.

Process of naming

Who named Cyclone 'Gulab'? A brief history of naming Indian Ocean cyclones
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There are six regional specialised meteorological centres (RSMCs) and five regional Tropical Cyclone Warning Centres (TCWCs) across the globe. They monitor cyclogenesis, issue advisories and name cyclones. IMD's RSMC in New Delhi is one among them that provide advisories to 13 countries in the north Indian Ocean basin: Bangladesh, India, Iran, Maldives, Myanmar, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

RSMC, New Delhi is, therefore, responsible for naming cyclones over the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea based on the suggested names from all these countries. Out of several criteria for naming cyclones, some very important ones are: names should be politically and culturally neutral, should not be rude and cruel and should be short, easy to pronounce. The maximum permissible length of the cyclone names is eight letters.As per the WMO guidelines, a list of 64 names was drawn in 2004 using the suggested names from eight countries in the region. In May 2020, Cyclone Amphan became the last cyclone to get its name from this old list. In 2020, a new list of cyclone names (listed above) was issued by IMD, following WMO guidelines.After Amphan, the naming started with the first list—Nisarga, Gati and so on.

After 13 cyclones, when List 1 is fully used, the naming resumes from List 2 and so on. Cyclone Gulab is the seventh name to be used from the new list. Gulab is the third cyclone of 2021 and is expected to be relatively mild compared to the previous two. However, it is likely to bring torrential downpour over 200 mm across isolated places of Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, and Telangana.As per the WMO guidelines, if a cyclone is particularly deadly or costly, the name is retired and never used again for any other hurricane. As per the WMO records, infamous storm names such as Mangkhut (the Philippines, 2018), Irma and Maria (the Caribbean, 2017), Haiyan (the Philippines, 2013), Sandy (the USA, 2012), Katrina (the USA, 2005), Mitch (Honduras, 1998) and Tracy (Darwin, 1974) are some of the names of hurricanes that are retired now.

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