Monday, May 19, 2008

Why was a deadly cyclone called Nargis (daffodil)?

Not the kind of damage one would expect a daffodil to unleash: Image of the cyclone from BBC News

In this season of disasters, both natural and man-made, this thought may be inconsequential. Still, I have been wondering why the cyclone that devasted much of Burma was named after something as delicate and romantic as a daffodil (nargis is the Urdu word for the flower)?

There is an elaborate international system in place that allows countries to take turns at naming cyclones in the their regions. The India Meteorlogical Department is the coordinating centre of South Asia for the World Meteorlogical Organisation and receives entries from neighbouring countries. Nargis, the cyclone that hit Burma, was Pakistan's suggestion. But why? Did the Pakistani meterologists actually think the cyclone was going to downgrade itself before hitting land to a breeze that would end up caress Burma's treetops? Why not some of the firebrand stuff like the names of their missiles: Hatf, Ghauri, Ghaznawi, Abdali?

Bangladesh, when it was its turn, had recommended something more sensible: Ogni (fire). India too had an insipid name - Akash (sky). Fortunately, the latter didn't kill as many as Nargis. The next cyclone will be called Abe, as Sri Lanka wants it. Wonder what Abe means? Tried looking around but didn't come across something relevant.


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