BY SILVI WRITER
Typhoon Mangkhut has wreaked damage across the Philippines’ main island of Luzon, reportedly killing 14 people already. It is currently storming through the Pacific Ocean, steaming towards Hong Kong and Guangdong province in South China in a potentially destructive path.
But why is it named Mangkhut?
Naming both typhoons and hurricanes has been a long-held tradition the world over, with different meteorological agencies choosing different naming traditions.
WMO maintains rotating lists of names which are appropriate for each Tropical Cyclone basin. If a cyclone is particularly deadly or costly, then its name is retired and replaced by another one.
The practice of naming storms (tropical cyclones) began years ago in order to help in the quick identification of storms in warning messages because names are presumed to be far easier to remember than numbers and technical terms.
Many agree that appending names to storms makes it easier for the media to report on tropical cyclones, heightens interest in warnings and increases community preparedness.
Experience shows that the use of short, distinctive given names in written as well as spoken communications is quicker and less subject to error than the older more cumbersome latitude-longitude identification methods.
These advantages are especially important in exchanging detailed storm information between hundreds of widely scattered stations, coastal bases, and ships at sea.
There is a strict procedure to determine a list of tropical cyclone names in an ocean basin(s) by the Tropical Cyclone Regional Body responsible for that basin(s) at its annual/biennial meeting.
There are five tropical cyclone regional bodies, i.e. ESCAP/WMO Typhoon Committee, WMO/ESCAP Panel on Tropical Cyclones, RA I Tropical Cyclone Committee, RA IV Hurricane Committee, and RA V Tropical Cyclone Committee.
Western North Pacific and South China Sea Names
According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) resolution made by the 31st session of Typhoon Committee meeting held in Manila, Philippines in December 1998, a new typhoon naming system has been put into service for international aviation and navigation since January 1st, 2000.
The new naming system maintains the numbering method (for example, the first typhoon occurring in 2004 is numbered 0401, following existing method) while replaces the original set of unified identifications of typhoons occurring in the Western North Pacific and South China Sea region by a new set of 140 names divided into five groups with each containing 28 names.
Each of 14 Typhoon Committee members from nations and district of the Western North Pacific and South China Sea region provides 10 names.
The WMO Regional Specialized Meteorological Center (RSMC) based in Tokyo, Japan, is responsible for naming the typhoons according to the arranged set of names. Each nation (and district) has their sole discretion in deciding whether to use the name for internal typhoon reporting.
The new set of 140 typhoon names is extremely complicated and irregular as they are from different nations and districts, including not only names of persons, but also nouns of categories such as animals, plants, astrology, places, mythological figures, jewelry, etc. These names are not alphabetically ordered.
Why is the typhoon named Ompong in the Philippines? Because they have different names because a different agency is naming them.
Philippine-based agencies are few, and the original meteorological agency was the Philippine Weather Bureau, responsible for monitoring weather systems starting from 1963.
Instead of using western names like their Honolulu-based counterpart, the organisation chose Filipino names traditionally ending in ng, also in alphabetical order.
Now, the Philippine Weather Bureau is defunct, and responsibilities have been taken over by the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA).
The newest agency took over naming major typhoons in 1972, and has continued the now long-held tradition which sees an international name, and a local female name ending in ng.
Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico and the North Atlantic Names
In the beginning, storms were named arbitrarily. An Atlantic storm that ripped off the mast of a boat named Antje became known as Antje’s hurricane. Then the mid-1900’s saw the start of the practice of using feminine names for storms.
In the pursuit of a more organized and efficient naming system, meteorologists later decided to identify storms using names from a list arranged alphabetically. Thus, a storm with a name which begins with A, like Anne, would be the first storm to occur in the year. Before the end of the 1900’s, forecasters started using male names for those forming in the Southern Hemisphere.
Since 1953, Atlantic tropical storms have been named from lists originated by the National Hurricane Center. They are now maintained and updated by an international committee of the World Meteorological Organization. The original name lists featured only women’s names. In 1979, men’s names were introduced and they alternate with the women’s names. Six lists are used in rotation.
Thus, the 2015 list will be used again in 2021.