SYDNEY, The Australian - A 29-YEAR-OLD Fijian cyclone forecaster was behind the unusual name given to the cyclone that has menaced Queensland.
Misaeli Funaki took the name Yasi to the group of Pacific meteorologists who meet every two years to prepare a list of titles for the next cyclones that arise in the vast area covered by the islands.
While watching satellite images of Yasi slowly dissipating as it headed deeper into Queensland, Mr Funaki said from Nadi yesterday that "normally we alternate between boys' and girls' names".
The meteorologists also follow alphabetical order. The next cyclone on the list was to start with a Y. No one could come up with an appropriate name of either gender ù leaving a clear run for Mr Funaki's proposal.
Proving that Google doesn't have the answer for everything, an Internet search would have suggested Yasi was named after an ancient city in Kazakhstan or a video game whose acronym stands for "yet another space invader".
In fact, Yasi's name is the Fijian word for sandalwood.
"The names have to be agreed by consensus," Mr Funaki said.
"This also means that we make sure that they don't constitute an insult in someone else's language."
Tourists visiting Fiji frequently bring home sweet-smelling sandalwood soaps or oils, although the former large forests were thinned out by 19th-century traders seeking tropical products to sell to the Chinese in return for their silks and teas.
Nominations of the names for the next few cyclones were then sent, as usual, from the regional group to the World Meteorological Organisation, a UN body, for its ultimate approval ù which Yasi received. So the name was lying in a drawer awaiting the genesis, northeast of Fiji, of what was ù during its transit west across northern Fiji ù categorised only as a category 1 or 2 cyclone.
The next meeting Mr Funaki will attend has to come up with a Z name, which he said would be an even bigger challenge than Y.
"But then we're back on track with As and Bs, and boys and girls," he said.