LAHORE: After whom the tropical cyclone Nilofar, endangering Oman, Pakistan and India, has been named and why is it feminine? This is the question that has been haunting many people in Pakistan ever since news about its development and movement towards the three countries started getting attraction.

Senior officials in the Pakistan Meteorological Department say this name was suggested by Pakistan. But it has not been given to the cyclone at once. It is also not the name of any relative of the one who attached it to the natural phenomenon.

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“It is part of a list prepared in advance by eight member countries of a World Meteorological Organizations body for North Indian Ocean/Arabian Ocean. The members are Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Oman, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

The WMO website indicates that each member country has given eight names. Therefore, the list contains 64. Except for one, all names by Pakistan are interestingly feminine like Nargis (given to a cyclone that hit Bangladesh some time ago), Nilam, Vardah Titli and Bulbul. Sri Lanka too likes feminine names. And in the opinion of a Met department official this may be due to the overwhelming majority of the male representatives of the member countries in the body. Significantly, many such names are of flowers which don’t connote anything furious.

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The WMO website says tropical cyclones/hurricanes are named neither after any particular person, nor with any preference in alphabetical sequence. The tropical cyclone/hurricane names selected are those that are familiar to the people in each region.

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. Before the end of the 1900’s, forecasters started using male names for those forming in the Southern Hemisphere.

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.

The WMO/ESCAP Panel on Tropical Cyclones at its 27th Session held in 2000 in Muscat, Oman, agreed in principle to assign names to the tropical cyclones in the Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea. After long deliberations among the member countries, the naming of the tropical cyclones over north Indian Ocean commenced in September 2004.

The panel members names are listed alphabetically country wise. They are used to help identify each individual tropical cyclone. It helps public to become fully aware of its development. It does not confuse when there is more than one tropical cyclone in the same area.

Published in Dawn, October 29th, 2014

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