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What to Call a Storm? How Scientists Name Hurricanes

Dana Demange and Nancy Steinbach


HOST: Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC, in VOA Special English.


I'm Doug Johnson. On our show this week:

We hear some music by a rock group with an unusual name …

Answer a question about the naming of hurricanes …

And report about some popular American writers.

National Book Festival

On Saturday, September twenty-fourth, the Library of Congress will hold its fifth yearly National Book Festival in Washington, D.C. More than eighty writers, artists and poets will be on the National Mall to talk about their work. Faith Lapidus tells us about three of them.

FAITH LAPIDUS: One of the writers at the National Book Festival this year is R.L. Stine. He writes books for children. Mister Stine is well known around the world for his series of books called “Goosebumps.” The books have been translated into thirty-two languages. They are frightening and also fun. Titles of Goosebumps books include “Welcome To Camp Nightmare,” and “A Night in Terror Tower.”

R.L. Stine has been writing since he was a child. He wrote his first successful horror book in nineteen eighty-six. Goosebumps began in nineteen ninety-two. Today, he is working on three different book series. They are called “Mostly Ghostly,” “Rotten School” and “Fear Street.”

Another American writer at the Book Festival this year is popular around the world as well. Karin Slaughter’s work is published in twenty-three different languages. Her books are about imaginary crimes that take place in a small town in the American South. The latest book in the series is called “Faithless.”

Critics praise Karin Slaughter’s books for developing characters that readers recognize as real. And they say the violence she describes clearly shows her anger at crimes against women and children.

A third writer at the Book Festival is David McCullough. He writes about real people in American history. Mister McCullough has won many writing awards, including the Pulitzer Prize. His new book is called “Seventeen Seventy-Six.” It is about what he calls the most important year in the most important struggle in American history. It is the year that American colonial leaders approved the Declaration of Independence and demanded freedom from British rule.

David McCullough says he tried to describe that year in the words of the people who lived through it. He used writings of soldiers in the colonial army to help tell the story. Critics say David McCullough’s work helps readers experience historical events.

Hurricane Names

HOST: Our VOA question this week comes from listeners in India and Vietnam. Anandkumar Bussi and Hoa Nguyen ask about the meaning of hurricane and Katrina.

A hurricane is a violent ocean storm near the equator in the eastern Pacific or Atlantic oceans in late summer or early autumn. The same kind of storm is also known by other names. Scientists call them cyclones when they happen just north or south of the equator and in the Indian Ocean. They are called typhoons in the western Pacific Ocean or the China Sea.

Weather scientists call hurricanes by names to make clear just which storm they are talking about, especially when two or more take place at the same time. They say using short names is especially important when exchanging storm information among weather stations and ships at sea.

An Australian weather scientist began giving women’s names to storms before the end of the nineteenth century. Weather scientists used the names of their girlfriends or wives for storms during World War Two. The United States weather service started officially using women’s names for storms in nineteen fifty-three. In nineteen seventy-eight, it began including men’s names as well.

Today, scientists make up lists of names years in advance. They agree on them at meetings of the World Meteorological Organization. The lists include both American and international names.

The United States National Hurricane Center near Miami, Florida, watches for the development of storms. It gives a name to each one that reaches a wind speed of sixty-two kilometers an hour. A different list of names is used each year. The first name begins with the letter “A”. The second begins with “B” and so on. The same list will not be used again for at least six years. Names of storms used so far this year include Arlene, Bret, Cindy, Dennis, Emily and Franklin and the recent ones: Katrina and Ophelia.

The names of storms that have caused extremely severe damage may be retired at the request of the country that was affected. That name will not be used again for at least ten years. This is done to avoid legal problems or confusion. It may be reasonable to believe that the United States soon will ask that the name Katrina be retired.

You can learn more about hurricanes on the Special English program Science in the News on Tuesday, September twenty-seventh.

Death Cab For Cutie

A popular rock band has an unusual name: Death Cab for Cutie. The four young men in the group are from the western state of Washington. They took the unusual name from a song written by a British group from the nineteen sixties. Barbara Klein has more.

BARBARA KLEIN: Death Cab For Cutie is considered an “indie” or independent rock group. It is part of a movement of musicians who like to protect their artistic freedom. One way they do this is by remaining independent from major production companies.

Death Cab for Cutie recorded its first albums with a small record company. Its latest album was released by the large company, Atlantic Records. The musicians hope to show that a group can be successful and also keep total artistic control.

The new album is called “Plans.” Its songs express the many qualities of love. Some songs are about the end of love. Others describe the way love survives through everything, even death. This song celebrates the joy of being in love. Here is “Marching Bands of Manhattan”.


Ben Gibbard wrote and sings most of the songs on “Plans.” He says this is an album about growing up and understanding loss. Here he sings “Someday You Will be Loved”.


Death Cab for Cutie will be traveling throughout the United States and Canada this fall to play their latest music. We leave you now with a song that expresses love and undying loyalty. It is “I Will Follow You into the Dark”.


HOST: I'm Doug Johnson. I hope you enjoyed our program. This show was written by Dana Demange and Nancy Steinbach. Caty Weaver was the producer.

Join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC, VOA’s radio magazine in Special English.