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Did you know? Hurricanes were given only female names until 1978.

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Did you know? Hurricanes were given only female names until 1978.

WATCH: How Hurricanes are named

With Hurricane Matthew bearing down on much of the east coast over the weekend, several states have declared states of emergency.

So far this year, we've seen hurricanes Alex, Earl, Gaston, Hermine and now Matthew.

But how and why did we start naming hurricanes? Tornados don't have names. So what's the deal with hurricanes? 

Hurricanes and tropical storms are given short distinctive names to avoid confusion when there are two or more happening at the same time, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or NOAA.

The names leave less room for error compared to the latitude-longitude identification method. 

Here's a little hurricane history: 

For several hundred years, hurricanes were named after saints. Storm names were determined by the particular saint's day in which the hurricane hit.

By World War II, military meteorologists began referring to storms using women's names.

The United States started using female names for hurricanes in 1953, when it ditched the 2-year-old plan to name storms based on a phonetic alphabet. 

It wasn't until 1978 that hurricanes were named after men and women, according to NOAA.

Storms were originally named by the National Hurricane Center, but now the World Meteorological Organization maintains a list.

The names of hurricanes are all derived from lists that are recycled every six years.

So that means the 2016 list won't be used again until 2022. 


Here's a look at the 2016 list on NOAA's website:*Bolded names have been used this year*

  • Alex
  • Bonnie
  • Colin
  • Danielle
  • Earl
  • Fiona
  • Gaston
  • Hermine
  • Ian
  • Julia
  • Karl
  • Lisa
  • Matthew
  • Nicole
  • Otto
  • Paula
  • Richard
  • Shary
  • Tobias
  • Virginie
  • Walter

If more than 21 named tropical storms happen in one season, NOAA notes that additional hurricanes take their names from the Greek alphabet. 

If a hurricane is particularly deadly or costly, the country affected can request that the name of the hurricane be "retired," according to NOAA.

The World Meteorological Organization determines whether the name is "retired" and a new name of the same gender is selected to replace it. This means the names of some of the big hurricanes like Sandy and Katrina won't show up again for at least 10 years.

As for Hurricane Matthew, we will have to wait and see. 

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