WSAV NOW Weather: Out with the Greek; the story behind changing hurricane names


SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — Greek letters will longer be used to name storms during excessively busy hurricane seasons. Each year to name tropical systems, the World Meteorological Organization provides a list of twenty-one names to use.  

The 2020 hurricane season had thirty-one storms that had to be named. This makes it the most active Atlantic hurricane season on record. The second most active Atlantic season was 2005 with twenty-eight named storms. 

During both of those extremely active years, the Greek alphabet was used to supplement to name storms once the regular list of twenty-one names were used up.

The Greek letter names became as much of the story as the storms themselves. Many Greek letters sound very similar; Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Zeta, and the list goes on. That can be confusing when, like in 2020, there were more than one Greek named storm happening at the same time.  

In the later part of the hurricane 2020 season, Eta and Iota, were both devastating storms in Central America. Eta made landfall as a category 4 hurricane on November 4th in Nicaragua. Just two weeks later, hurricane Iota made landfall just 15 miles south of Eta on November 16th. Iota was a category 5 hurricane before it made landfall as a very strong category 4 hurricane. 

Eta and Iota caused such extensive wind damage and flooding across Nicaragua, both names had to be retired after the 2020 season. An alphabet with missing letters posed a problem with how to name storms in the future when the regular name list is exhausted. 

After earlier this year, the World Meteorological Organization announced on March 17th that the use of the Greek alphabet would be ending. Instead, to avoid confusion they created a supplemental list of names that will be used to name storms each season that goes beyond twenty-one named storms. 

If a storm named from the supplemental list of names is especially bad and must be retired, it will be removed from the list and replaced.  

The World Meteorological Organization believes that using more standard names that people are used to will keep the message focused on the storms and their potential dangers, rather than the names. By staying focused on the message, it will be easier to spread the word about any dangers. 

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