Natural phenomena

Treat terms for climate and weather events with consistent style. It helps users scan content for keywords and supports readability.

Standard rules of capitalisation apply for most natural phenomena

Follow the rules of capitalisation for most natural phenomena:

  • Proper nouns start with a capital letter.
  • Adjectives and common nouns are in lower case.

Do not use italics.

Most terms are usually in lower case

Write generic terms for climate and weather in lower case. This rule applies to many compound nouns.

Example

climate change, global warming, greenhouse gases

Specific terms usually take lower case. For example, this rule applies to scientific names for types of clouds.

Example

cumulonimbus, cirrus and stratus

Terms for specific phenomena can take initial capitals

Scientific terms for natural phenomena can include common nouns that combine to form a proper noun.

Use initial capitals when spelling out this kind of scientific term. Common shortened forms are in full capitals. Any non-English names retain the spelling of the original.

Example

  • Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD)
  • Southern Oscillation Index (SOI)

Climate and weather events take on proper names

Individual climate and weather events have names to help communicate the event to the public.

There are specific capitalisation rules for climate and weather events. We follow the style recommended by Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology.

For events not listed here, follow the standard rules for capitalisation.

Cyclones are usually given people’s names

Use initial capitals for the names of cyclones.

Do this for the given name and for the adjectives and common nouns that appear immediately before the given name. The bureau uses ‘Cyclone’, ‘Tropical Cyclone’ and ‘Severe Tropical Cyclone’ as part of the cyclone’s name.

Check the name is accurate on the bureau’s website.

Use the same rule for hurricanes and typhoons. These are different terms for the same natural phenomenon.

Example

  • Cyclone Yasi
  • Tropical Cyclone Winifred
  • Severe Tropical Cyclone Damien
  • Hurricane Wilma
  • Typhoon Fengshen

Always write ‘Cyclone’ as part of the name unless it is clear from the surrounding text that you are referring to a cyclone.

Example

Hilda was the first cyclone in the Australian region to make landfall in the 2017–18 season.

Cyclone Hilda made landfall in the 2017–18 season.

Droughts are usually named after a period in time

If the time is a formal period, the name has an initial capital.

Example

  • Millennium drought
  • Federation drought
  • the 1982–83 major drought

Fires are usually named for a time or location

Bushfires take initial capitals for the adjectival part of their name as well as any proper noun. Fires leading to substantial loss of life and property are usually named after the worst day or where they started.

Example

  • State Mine fire (New South Wales, 2013)
  • Black Saturday bushfires (Victoria, 2009)
  • Ash Wednesday bushfires (Victoria and South Australia, 1983)
  • Black Tuesday bushfires (Tasmania, 1967)
  • Black Friday bushfires (Victoria and New South Wales, 1939)
  • Black Thursday bushfires (Victoria, 1851)

During a fire, authorities usually name a fire based on where it started.

Example

the Taylors Creek Road fire

Floods, earthquakes and tsunamis are named by year, location and event

Use ‘year Location event’ as the naming convention for floods, earthquakes and tsunamis. Only the location (the proper noun) has an initial capital.

Example

  • 1974 Brisbane flood
  • 1989 Newcastle earthquake
  • 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami

Release notes

The digital edition significantly expands style advice for referring to natural phenomena. The sixth edition had brief information under ‘atmospheric phenomena’.

The digital edition recommends using initial capitals for all parts of a cyclone's name. The sixth edition restricted the use of initial capitals to the given name.

The Content Guide did not cover style for natural phenomena.

About this page

References

Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience (n.d.) ‘Australian disasters’, Knowledge hub, AIDR website, accessed 12 June 2020.

Bureau of Meteorology (n.d.) Bureau Blog, accessed 18 October 2022.

Bureau of Meteorology (2020) Tropical cyclone names, Bureau of Meteorology website, accessed 18 October 2022.

Japan Meteorological Agency (2020) Tropical cyclone information, Japan Meteorological Agency website, accessed 12 June 2020.

National Hurricane Center and Central Pacific Hurricane Center (n.d.) Tropical cyclone names, National Hurricane Center and Central Pacific Hurricane Center website, accessed 12 June 2020.

World Meteorological Organization (2020) Tropical cyclone naming, WMO website, accessed 12 June 2020.

This page was updated Tuesday 18 October 2022.