Lebanon News

Tracy or Miriam: Where do Lebanon’s storms get their names?

Two women cross a flooded road in the Hay al-Sellom neighborhood in Beirut s southern suburbs, Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: After storm Norma ripped apart shoddy infrastructure across the country, flooded refugee settlements in the Bekaa Valley and northern Lebanon and blanketed the mountains in snow, another storm has come to town.

Its name? That depends on who you ask.

Early last week, posts across social media had dubbed the approaching tempest “Tracy,” and by Thursday, news outlets were also circulating the name.

On the same day, caretaker Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk called the incoming storm Tracy during a speech announcing emergency measures, according to daily L’Orient-Le Jour.

Humanitarian organizations aiding vulnerable Syrian refugees whose camps had been inundated during Norma were also warning of the impact Tracy would have.

The Lebanese Agricultural Research Institute claimed responsibility for the name.

“We named it here because we are an official body and we talked about this storm a week before any other body or institution.

“We have also been giving instructions to citizens and farmers on how best to prepare,” LARI Director-General Michel Afram told The Daily Star.

LARI has about 80 meteorology stations across Lebanon monitoring the weather, Afram said.

However, come Sunday, the name Tracy had a contender: Miriam.

“We’re the official body in naming storms,” said Mohammad Fares, an employee at Rafik Hariri International Airport’s Meteorology Department, which chose the name.

“There are a lot of people who claim to be meteorologists and give out their own reports. Maybe these people are also trying to name storms, but they’re not official.”

General Director of Civil Aviation Mohammad Chehabeddine weighed in, issuing a statement saying the airport’s Meteorological Department was the only official source for issuing weather information.

“Recently, fake accounts spread voice messages on social media claiming to be the Meteorological Department in the Directorate-General of Civil Aviation.

“These messages contained false information used to create panic. ... The General-Directorate of Civil Aviation is keen to confirm that the [airport’s] Meteorology Department is the only official authorized source for issuing and circulating weather information,” the statement said.

According to Fares, storms in Lebanon are only named when winds are predicted to exceed 90 kilometers per hour with the expectation of heavy rain, and snow across Lebanon’s higher altitudes.

Once a storm meets the requirements, the Meteorology Department consults a list of preordained names from A to Z.

Each consecutive storm is named going in reverse alphabetical order.

“We just pick whatever we want from that,” Fares said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 15, 2019, on page 3.

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