Hurricanes used to be designated by a system of latitude-longitude, which was a great way for meteorologists to track them. However, once the public began receiving storm warnings and trying to keep track of a particular storm path, this got very confusing. A system of names to refer to them was much easier to track and remember.
In 1953, the National Weather Service picked up on the habit of Naval meteorologists of naming the storms after women. Ships were always referred to as female, and were often given women's names. In 1979, male names were inserted to alternate with the female names.
There are actually six lists of names in use for storms in the Atlantic. These lists rotate, one each year; the list of this year's names will not be reused until 2011. The names get recycled each time the list comes up, with one exception: storms so devastating that reusing the name is inappropriate. In this case, the name is taken off the list and another name is used to replace it; there will not be another Hurricane Andrew, because Andrew has been replace by Alex on the list.
A storm must start as a Tropical Depression and move on to become a Tropical Storm before it is given a name. Once a storm is named, preparations for the possible hurricane should be well under way. Without further ado, here is the list of hurricane names for 2011:
One question I've heard a lot recently is "What happens if we run out of hurricane names?" If we're unlucky enough to deplete the year's supply of names we won't, contrary to popular opinion, simply start using names from next year's list. In that case, the National Hurricane Center will turn to the Greek alphabet and we'll have Hurricanes Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, etc.
Hurricane Names for Other Years