Retiring 2020 hurricane names and the Greek alphabet

Weather 101

ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10/WFLA) — The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season was one for the record books with 30 named storms, the most ever. There 13 were hurricanes, five of which were major hurricanes (Category 3 or stronger). For the second time in the last 15 years, the annual name list was all used up, and we started naming storms with the Greek alphabet.

The Hurricane Committee of the World Meteorological Organization met virtually on March 17 for their annual review session. Among other things, the group votes on which storm names should be retired. Following this record-breaking season, the committee retired Laura and replaced it with Leah for 2026, Eta, and Iota. These were destructive storms in an incredibly active season. Dorian from 2019 was also retired and will be replaced by Dexter starting in 2025.

According to a news release from the WMO, members of the Hurricane Committee agreed it’s likely the list of names will be exhausted again in the future but said the 2020 hurricane season revealed a “number of shortcomings” when using the Greek alphabet.

“There can be too much focus on the use of Greek alphabet names and not the actual impacts from the storm. This can greatly detract from the needed impact and safety messaging,” the WMO explained, adding, “There is confusion with some Greek alphabet names when they are translated into other languages used within the Region.”

This was the second time in recent memory that storms were named using the Greek alphabet; the last time was in 2005, another historic season. And it is likely to occur again in a future season. The Hurricane Committee agreed to create a supplement list of A to Z names (excluding Q, U, X, Y, and Z). This list would be used instead of the Greek alphabet once the standard list is exhausted in a given season. Names on this list can also be retired. It is believed this extra set of names will avoid the shortcomings of using the Greek alphabet.

The committee pointed out the pronunciation of several Greek letters is similar and caused messaging challenges in 2020 because “this resulted in storms with very similar sounding names occurring simultaneously.”

Hurricane Eta and Hurricane Iota made landfall in the same area of Nicaragua less than two weeks apart in November. The retiring of Eta and Iota played a role in the decision to stop using the Greek alphabet, according to members of the Hurricane Committee.

“There was no formal plan for retiring Greek names, and the future use of these names would be inappropriate,” the committee said.

The standard list for the 2021 Atlantic Hurricane Season was also announced. These names were last used in 2015. Appearing for the first time—Elsa and Julian—replacing Erika and Joaquin, respectively, which were retired.

Last month, it was announced that the National Hurricane Center will start routinely issuing Tropical Weather Outlooks earlier this year, starting on May 15.

Dennis Feltgen with the NOAA said that change is being made to “provide more consistent information on the potential for late May and early June systems” and pointed out that the NHC issued 36 “special” Tropical Weather Outlooks before the official June 1 start of the hurricane season in 2020.

Feltgen also said there have been discussions about potentially moving the start of the hurricane season to May 15 instead of June 1. Regardless of what happens with those discussions and any potential changes, the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season will not be impacted and will start on June 1 as usual.

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