70th anniversary of women’s names used for typhoons

Reid Bryson while attending the Institute of Tropical Meteorology in 1943

Reid Bryson while attending the Institute of Tropical Meteorology in 1943

As a typhoon named Hagupit rages in the western Pacific, we are reminded that the tradition of naming typhoons began 70 years ago.  In the midst of World War II, the United States Army Air Force established a forward weather forecasting unit on Saipan to support the 20th Air Force’s bombing campaign against the home islands of Japan.  Among the meteorologists assigned to the unit were Major E. B. Buxton as well as Captains Reid Bryson and Bill Plumley.  Bryson was assigned the difficult task of tracking any tropical cyclones in the area of operations, a daunting effort since there were few weather observations over the vast ocean.  Prior to his assignment, he had read the novel “Storm” by George R. Stewart in which a junior meteorologist in the San Francisco Weather Bureau office has a habit of naming Pacific ocean storms after the women in his life.  This inspired Bryson to use the names of the wives and girlfriends of his fellow officers to identify the typhoons he was tracking.  Unfortunately, there are no surviving records of the storm tracks, but in a 1986 interview he mentioned that he used his own wife’s name Franny to tag one storm and for another the name of Plumley’s wife Donata.

Clement Wragge

Clement Wragge

Prior to the war, Buxton had worked in New Zealand forecasting for Pan American Airways.  There he had learned about an eccentric Englishman named Clement Wragge.  Wragge had established a weather bureau for Queensland in Australia in the late 19th Century and had begun the practice of designating tropical cyclones with women’s names.  But the bureau had closed and the practice stopped in the early 20th Century, and Wragge eventually retired to New Zealand.  Subsequently, Buxton had tried his hand at also naming ocean storms, telling Ivan Tannehill in the book “The Hurricane Hunters” that he’d once used the name “Chloe” for a particular tempest.  Whether Buxton ever relayed this information to Bryson or if it influenced the decision to revive the practice is not known.  But it is known that Wragge’s efforts directly influence Stewart in his writing of the novel “Storm”.