Tauktae (pronounced Tau’te) means “gecko” in Burmese. Now, how did a cyclone that hit India’s west coast end up with a Burmese name?
“The cyclone names are given by countries on rotation basis in (the) region,” Indian Forest Services officer Parveen Kaswan tweeted on May 15.
On this side of the world, the World Meteorological Organisation/United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (WMO/ESCAP) Panel on Tropical Cyclones (PTC) is responsible for naming the natural calamities.
The May 2020 Amphan—Thai for “sky,” pronounced um-pun—was the last in the list of 64 names finalised by an eight-country group back in 2004. A new list of names was created by 13 countries: India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Pakistan, the Maldives, Oman, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Iran, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.
The first name from this new list was used for cyclone Nisarga that originated in the Arabian Sea in June 2020. Nisarga, which means nature, was coined by Bangladesh.
The guidelines for names submitted for the new list included that the suggestions be neutral, non-political, non-religious, and non-gendered terms. The names should not be rude, cruel, or offensive, and be short—less than eight letters—and easy to pronounce. Some of the names that were suggested by India and are included in the list are Gati, Aag, and Vyom.
A cyclone, derived from the Greek word Cylos for “coiling snake,” is named when the intense circular storm’s wind speed reaches 74 kilometres per hour. (Fun fact: cyclones, hurricanes, and typhoons are basically the same thing with different points of origin—the South Pacific and the Indian Ocean, the North Atlantic and Northeast Pacific Ocean, and the Northwest Pacific Ocean, respectively.)
Earlier storms would be classified with a combination of letters and numbers but the practice of giving names caught on when the scientific community realised it increases awareness, speeds recovery, and saves lives. New Delhi’s Regional Specialized Meteorological Centre, too, recognises it helps in “rapidly and effectively disseminate warnings to (a) much wider audience.”
To ensure there is no confusion, the names assigned to tropical cyclones over the north Indian Ocean will never be repeated.