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Typhoon … Yolanda?

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Ok, quick question: What do you know about Typhoon Yolanda? Nothing, right? Guess what — it just went by. I’ll explain, but first: everyone is still working hard to help the people of the Philippines recover from Typhoon Haiyan (here’s a collection of places through which you can help), as well we should. So if that’s on your list of things to do, go ahead and do that. It’s more important than this blog.

Okay. Now: storm names. Before Haiyan came along, you and everybody else were watching this video making merciless — and richly deserved — ridicule of the James Inhofes of this world and their ilk, suggesting storms be named after them. Then here came Haiyan, though if you paid much attention to coverage of Haiyan, you may have noticed that Haiyan was called Yolanda by the people of the Phillipines. Confusing, yeah?

Here’s the deal. This whole business of naming storms was actually adopted by the United States National Weather Service in 1953, but it really got its start in 1941, in a novel called Storm, in which the unnamed protagonist decides to name a storm he’s watching: “He justified the sentimental vagary by explaining mentally that each storm was really an individual and that he could more easily say (to himself, of course) ‘Antonia’ than ‘the low-pressure center which was yesterday in Latitude 175 east, Longitude 42 north.’” Though there had been storm names before — the Long Island Express of 1938, for example — that got things going for real. Here’s a fuller story I wrote about that some time ago.

So anyhow NOAA keeps a list of tropical storm now and recycles them, and  other organizations all over the globe have followed suit. For the Western North Pacific and South China Sea, the World Meteorological Office keeps lists of names proposed by different nations, and they use them one by one. Haiyan was proposed by China, and next up will be Podul, from North Korea.

As far as I can tell, Yolanda shows up only on the list of Eastern North Pacific names, and even then on the list for 2014. It all  doesn’t make much sense to me, but I’m not bothering anybody in the Phillippines today to get their explanation. If anybody can explain it, I’ll be glad for the information.

UPDATE: Excellent readers have answered all questions. For one thing, the very kind Dan Bloom advised that PAGASA, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration, maintains the Philippine Tropical Cyclone Names list. You can see Yolanda is on the 2013 list, so it all makes sense. The international organizations ascribe names, but individual countries can use their own names as well, which accounts for Haiyan/Yolanda. As to general naming history, according to NOAA it’s true that West Indies hurricanes were sometimes named for the saint’s days near which they occurred, but the organized reference to storms by weather organizations pretty much followed the timeline I used above; despite the comments by KalTech, I don’t believe this in any way represents American refusal to give credit to other peoples’ traditions and accomplishments. Finally, according to my Oxford American, “hurricane” probably comes from the name of a storm god of the Taino (the native people who greeted Columbus), who were an Arawak people, not Mayans.

Be sure to read the comments by chiayiboy, below, who explains that “Haiyan” means “sea sparrow,” which the storm, regrettably, was not.

I love learning from readers! Yay crowd!

 

Scott Huler About the Author: A writer who commonly explores science, culture, and the relationship between the two. Follow on Twitter @huler.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. chiayiboy 8:37 pm 11/14/2013

    In related news, “Haiyan” got its name a year ago under an annual
    Asian naming system which prepares a list of names a 12 months in
    advance for all countries in the region. Just an hurricanes that hit
    the U.S. each fall are named a year in advance, Asian countries use a
    similar naming calendar. Dozens of nations Asia Pacific area,
    including Taiwan and Japan and the Philippines, follow the regional
    naming system for major storms, using words in Taglog, Korean,
    Japanese and Chinese for the typhoons. In Chinese, ”haiyan” means
    “sea sparrow.”

    Sadly, Super Typhoon Haiyan was not a sea sparrow, but more like a sea
    vulture, a sea monster.

    Local newspapers and television networks in the Philippines took to
    calling the destructive storm Typhoon Yolanda,.
    according to Taiwan’s Central Weather Bureau which called it “Haiyan.”
    “Sea sparrow” was a name chosen from a list a year ago and without any
    knowledge that Haiyan would be so devastating. (Why the Philippines
    goverment has taken to calling it “Yolanda” has not been established
    yet, but surely some savvy storm chasers will find out why later and
    explain.)

    Not all weathermen think that naming typhoons in the Pacific region is
    a good idea, however.

    “Typhoons bring nothing but negative images, [so naming them doesn't
    help],” a spokesman for Taiwan’s Central Weather Bureau told the
    Taipei Times a few years ago. “It has even made the translation of
    these names, from all sorts of languages into Chinese here in Taiwan’s
    print and TV media a real headache. Previously we could easily find
    out when a typhoon in question occurred by looking up the name on an
    earlier alphabetic list of names, instead of first trawling through
    this jumbled list of countries as it is now.”

    Link to this
  2. 2. KalTek 9:43 pm 11/14/2013

    YOU SAID: “This whole business of naming storms was actually adopted by the United States National Weather Service in 1953, but it really got its start in 1941, in a novel called Storm, in which the unnamed protagonist decides to name a storm he’s watching: “He justified the sentimental vagary by explaining mentally that each storm was really an individual and that he could more easily say (to himself, of course) ‘Antonia’ than ‘the low-pressure center which was yesterday in Latitude 175 east, Longitude 42 north.’”

    This is not true at all. The U.S. tends to be egocentric in everything it does in the wolrd. Naming a storm is but one thing.

    Hate to break it to you, but they’ve had names way before someone decided to write that book. Latinos have been naming the storms by Saints for much longer. U.S. people just don’t like to give anyone credit for anything as they are into hogging spotlights.

    Furthermore, the word JURACAN is a Maya name. The first “name” for a storm came from the MAYA, FIRST AMERICANS for 10′s of thousands of years.

    Link to this
  3. 3. KalTek 9:47 pm 11/14/2013

    the name of this storm was Yolanda and this is what the FILIPINOS named it. Perhaps BIG China gave a miserable $100,000 to the Filipinos because they didn’t care to call the storm what China decided to call it. You know how petty some countries can be when they want to use a messed up situation to make a political point.

    Link to this
  4. 4. danbloom 3:30 am 11/15/2013

    So Mr Huler and KalTek above, why did the Phil govt call the storm Yolanda for local media and newspapers. Is it a Tagolog word? Meaning what? or does the Phil Govt name all the storms a year in advance with female names or both male and female list on a list a year ahead of time so each storm that comes through gets the tag, and Haiyan got the YOLANDA tag? can you confirm, KAlTek? I told Huler by email and twitter that a regional naming board in the Pacific asks the member countries , except Taiwan which is not allowed to join officially due to presswure from commie Chhinma, so no storms have Taiwanese names, but all the nations in the region other than Taiwna can nomiate their own names so Japan said USAGI, rabbit for one, and Vietnam said a name and on on and. And that is how the media names each story each season. BUT also each country can also use a local name if the want, in addition to the official name, so Japan which loves ORDER, calls every storm each fall as Typhoon No. 1 and Typhopon Number 2 and so on all the way to 29 and 3o and they never use the ofifical name from the Asia region in the japanese media. they are outliers. liars too sometimes about comfort women and rape of nanjing. so Phjil Govt can also name storms with local Phil names and that is how Yolanda got its name, a year ago. ask PAGASA the offical bureau in Manila

    Link to this
  5. 5. danbloom 4:03 am 11/15/2013

    LEO found the list Leo Gonzales ‏@leognzls 8h
    @huler re: “Typhoon… Yolanda?”, the Philippines has its own list of names for typhoons that enter its area: http://www.pagasa.dost.gov.ph/genmet/rpnames.html

    names for 2013 were:
    AURING
    BISING
    CRISING
    DANTE
    EMONG
    FABIAN
    GORIO
    HUANING
    ISANG
    JOLINA
    KIKO
    LABUYO
    MARING
    NANDO
    ODETTE
    PAOLO
    QUEDAN
    RAMIL
    SANTI
    TINO
    URDUJA
    VINTA
    WILMA
    YOLANDA
    ZORAIDA

    Link to this
  6. 6. danbloom 4:09 am 11/15/2013

    MR HULER UPDATE PLEASE!

    Link to this

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