Who between Dineo, Rebaone, Habana, Uyapo, Yarona and Maipelo packs the meanest punch? Who, upon stepping into the ring, can bring whole towns and villages to a standstill? Having taken a ringside seat for as long we have, we can say with absolute certainty that Dineo sure doesn’t hit like a girl but it will be some time before we are acquainted with Rebaone’s power. That is because a Malawian called Enawo – and a host of other SADC pugilists, will certainly beat him to the punch. Chances are that depending on your name we will, in our life time, learn what destruction you too can cause.
For Botswana ÔÇô as indeed the rest of Africa, giving tropical cyclones names of people is something new but through Botswana’s own Department of Meteorological Services, the World Meteorological Organisation has succeeded brilliantly with its cyclone naming system. Every three years, the WMO’s Tropical Cyclone Committee determines a pre-designated list of cyclone names. The names are proposed by the Committee’s members that include national meteorological services. In the case of Botswana, as Chief Meteorologist Radithupa Radithupa explains, the names are suggested in-house.
“It is an operational process that doesn’t even reach the permanent secretary. The names are suggested by staff members and subsequently presented to the Tropical Cyclone Committee when it meets,” he says.
Alongside other SADC countries, Botswana is classified under the South West Indian Ocean category. Each one of the countries in this region provides a name and a list that is used sequentially is generated. The WMO website says that unlike names on the Atlantic and Eastern Pacific lists, names for this region are not rotated every few years. Dineo was the fourth name on the 2016/17 list; another Botswana name that is on that season’s list is Rebaone and has been placed 18th. For the 2017/18 cyclone season, Botswana has provided Habana (8th) and Yarona (25th) and for the 2018/19 season, it has provided Maipelo (13th) and Uyapo (21st).
Radithupa says that only short and simple names that are familiar to people in a region are chosen for the cyclone identification system.
“It is also important that the names are not long and not tongue-twisters because people in other parts of the world should also have ease using them,” he says, adding that international researchers would have a problem remembering a Setswana name as long “Mosimanegape” or the San tongue-twister he mentions.
According to the WMO, the main purpose of naming a tropical cyclone/hurricane is basically for people to easily understand and remember the tropical cyclone/hurricane in a region and thus facilitate disaster risk awareness, preparedness, management and reduction.
“Experience shows that the use of short, distinctive given names in written as well as spoken communications is quicker and less subject to error than the older more cumbersome latitude-longitude identification methods. These advantages are especially important in exchanging detailed storm information between hundreds of widely scattered stations, coastal bases, and ships at sea,” the WMO website says.
Male names mark a departure from a norm that used to give cyclones women’s names only, something that a former Director of the Meteorological Service, Gladys Ramothwa, disapprovingly commented on when she briefed the press about Cyclone Eline. The latter tore through the region in 2000 and in line with WMO rule that says that names of deadly and costly cyclones should be retired, Eline will not be used again. After what she did, Dineo will also be consigned to the dustbin of history.
The next name after Dineo on the 2016/17 list is Enawo from Malawi and according to Radithupa, Cyclone Enawo will start lashing the region today (Sunday).