How to Name a Typhoon

Screenshot-2017-10-25 Typhoon Committee Typhoon Committee is an intergovernmental body organized under the joint auspices o[...]

When I went to bed on Sunday night, the media were calling #21 a massive typhoon (technically a tropical cyclone). It turned out to be a proverbial tempest in a chapot. I couldn’t sleep that night but that’s OK since I’ve always been a fan of violent weather. Well, almost always. When I was a little girl, there was a huge tree right outside my bedroom window and every time there was a storm, I was convinced the tree would fall onto the house and crush me to smithereens. I would cry and cry until one of my parents came up to comfort me. And, boy oh boy, the lies they made up to get me to shut up! One of them once said the roof was made of rubber so if the tree fell, it would just bounce back off again. I believed it. Kids are dumb.

The_Wicked_Witch_of_the_West

So I lay awake and listened as the rain pelted the windows and the wind whined a bit, but that was the extent of it. There were no broken flowerpots or tree branches, no upturned old ladies, no banshees wailed, no witches sailed past on broomsticks. Although it’s been raining for what feels like months, the typhoon passed by within an hour. Despite all the dire warnings, typhoon #21 inspired yet another media circus about a non-event.

The next morning I got a message from a friend in the States implying that the Western hemisphere is more civilized than this one because they use names instead of numbers for what they incorrectly call “hurricanes”. The US uses people’s names, alternately male and female. They were all female until 1979 when a lot of women burned our bras in protest and they changed the rules.

So I thought I should look into this matter.

It turns out that Asian typhoons do have names but we don’t use them here in Japan. There’s a super secret group called the ESCAP/WMO (Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific/World Meteorological Organization) Typhoon Committee who are responsible for naming typhoons in the Western Pacific. The Committee has 14 member countries, all in Asia except, for reasons that escape me, the United States, who got together and made a list of names. Each country contributed five names and the names are used in sequential order according to the alphabetical ordering of the English names of the member countries, starting with Cambodia and ending with Vietnam. Our #21 was called Lan, a name contributed by the US. Last week’s typhoon, #20, was called Khanun, named by Thailand. Currently, #22, Saola (Vietnam), is kicking up her heels somewhere around Guam.

Japan’s contributions to the list include Kujira (whale) and Usagi (rabbit). I wonder who was responsible for that one? “Quick! Latch all the windows and hide the cabbages and carrots! Typhoon Bunny is coming!”

Long story short, it turns out that the reason we use numbers instead of names is that many of the names on the list are too hard to pronounce in Japanese, which has a very limited syllabulary, and our newscasters are very lazy indeed.

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Mystery solved.

 

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