Running Out of Hurricane Names
Posted by: Communications Team | September 21, 2020
Here we are, halfway through hurricane season and we’re running out of hurricane names. For the second time in history the National Hurricane Center has started using the Greek alphabet for storm names. Running out of hurricane names piqued our curiosity about who chooses the names of hurricanes.
Storms were originally named arbitrarily. Beginning in 1953, Atlantic tropical storms were named from lists originated by the National Hurricane Center. They are now maintained and updated by an international committee of the World Meteorological Organization. The original name lists featured only women's names. In 1979, men's names were introduced and they alternate with the women's names.
Coming up with the storm names is challenging. The list only uses 21 of the 26 letters of the alphabet. Finding names starting with Q. U, X, Y, and Z is not easy. The names also need to be easily recognizable in the interest of safety. With the geographical coverage of the storms – across the Atlantic and Caribbean – a balance between French, Spanish, and English is needed.
To make name selection even more interesting, the committee of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) created a rotating list of names for 6 years and the 2019 list will be used again in 2025. Of course, some of those names change when a hurricane name is retired.
When a very active hurricane season occurs and the list is exhausted, the Greek alphabet is used. In 2006 the WMO Regional Association IV Hurricane Committee determined that felt that the use of the Greek alphabet was not expected to be frequent enough to warrant retiring a name.
The prolific and deadly 2005 hurricane season was the only other time the Greek alphabet has been brought out, and there were six storms: Tropical Storm Alpha, Hurricane Beta, Tropical Storm Gamma, Tropical Storm Delta, Hurricane Epsilon and Tropical Storm Zeta.
Retiring a Name
When a hurricane is particularly destructive, the name is retired. The retirements began following 1954 hurricane season with three major storms hit the East Coast. Since then 88 names have been retired. The 2005 season set the record with five hurricane names retired: Dennis, Katrina, Rita, Stan, and Wilma.
The letter “I” has the distinction of having 11 names retired. The honor is more about the fact that the letter “I” tends to coincide in the naming process near the average peak of the hurricane season.
Dean and Draper
On Friday evening, Tropical Storm 22 became Hurricane Beta and is now approaching the Texas coast. We hope you have taken time to prepare for heavy rain and windy conditions that are headed our way.
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Sources: World Meteorological Organization, NOAA, NPR