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  1. Local Weather

What's in a name? Why and how we name tropical storms and hurricanes

This year we've been introduced to Ana, Bill, Claudette and Danny. None of them hung around for long. Now Erika looks like she might saunter right into our living rooms.

To be clear, nobody invited her.

Personifying Tropical Storms has been a meteorological tool for more than 50 years. It gives the storm a personality, makes it loom over dinner table conversations like a pesky neighbor that won't turn down his music.

That's the point.

The National Hurricane Center used to use a combination of numbers and letters to tag brewing storms. But in 1953, meteorologists there decided it would be more efficient and effective to give tropical storms human names. Less confusion, more media attention.

"It makes it easy for every single person to understand what specific storm is being talked about," said National Weather Service Meteorologist Eric Oglesby.

But as cells pop up and fade out, meteorologists aren't sitting in a room pulling names out of a hat or spitefully branding tropical storms after loathsome ex-boyfriends. The lists of names are curated years in advance.

There are six name lists for the region encompassing the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico and North Atlantic Ocean, and they are used on a rotation. This year's list of names, alternating male and female, won't circulate again until 2021.

At first, only women's names were used, but in 1979 men's names were added into the mix. The first storm name of the season always begins with an 'A,' then follows down the list alphabetically.

The World Meteorological Organization now manages the lists, and an international committee is tasked with choosing and retiring names.

Particularly deadly or devastating storms, like Hurricane Katrina that ravaged New Orleans 10 years ago this week, are removed from the list and replaced with a new name. Other retired names include Charley, Sandy and Ike.

Storm names are tailored to different geographical regions. The Eastern North Pacific includes Olaf and Ignacio, and the Central North Pacific has Akoni and Malia in its rotation.

Oglesby said it's important to customize the names by region so they'll be more recognizable to the people in their path.

This year's roster for our part of the world:

Ana

Bill

Claudette

Danny

Erika

Fred

Grace

Henri

Ida

Joaquin

Kate

Larry

Mindy

Nicholas

Odette

Peter

Rose

Sam

Teresa

Victor

Wanda

And about Erika, as of Thursday afternoon, the National Hurricane Center was forecasting that the storm could approach Florida's east coast this weekend and escalate to a hurricane.

Gov. Rick Scott addressed Erika at a news conference and emphasized the importance of storm preparedness.

For a wealth of stories and tipsheets on how to prepare for a storm, visit our 2015 Hurricane Guide.

Contact Katie Mettler at kmettler@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3446. Follow @kemettler.

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