In the future, don’t expect to hear about tropical storms named Alpha, Eta or Zeta. The World Meteorological Organization decided Wednesday to end the use of Greek letters when the Atlantic hurricane season runs out of alphabetized given names. For 2021 there are 21 given names for the Atlantic, starting with Ana, Bill and Claudette and ending with Wanda. If there are more tropical storms, the WMO will start on an auxiliary list of 21 more names (Adria, Braylen Caridad ... ending with Will).
Last year, the Atlantic ran through its quota of 21 given names – starting with Arthur and ending with Wilfred – and moved on to the Greek alphabet with Beta, Gamma, Delta, Epsilon, Zeta, Eta, Theta and Iota. Use of Greek letters had only happened once before, in 2005.
The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June through November and although that won’t change this year, the WMO committee members did discuss moving the starting date from June 1 to May 15. It seems our tropical storms have become more numerous and the season is starting earlier.
There’s also the Pacific hurricane season, which will begin on May 15 for the Eastern Pacific Ocean and on June 1 for the Central Pacific, ending on Nov. 30. There are 24 given names set aside for 2021 and if all of those are used there’s a supplemental naming list instead of Greek letters. Last year ended with Tropical Storm Polo on Nov. 10.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, storms are given short, distinctive names to avoid confusion and streamline communications.
The history of naming storms goes back several centuries, using their location or naming them after the particular Saint’s Day on which the hurricane occurred.
NOAA’s National Hurricane Center does not control the naming of tropical storms. In 1953 the United States began using female names for storms and in 1978 male names also started being used.
Whatever they are called, it is important to note that NOAA is recalculating the average hurricane season, following its usual 30-year update model. According to the Associated Press, the new “normal” season would have 19% more named storms and major hurricanes. “And,” AP reports, “prominent hurricane experts want meteorologists to rethink how they warn people about wetter, nastier storms in a warming world.”