Many are aware that intense, destructive, deadly hurricane names are retired from name lists that are recycled for tropical cyclones. There will never be another Andrew, Hugo, Katrina, or Sandy. But could a Greek alphabet letter be retired? We reached out to the National Hurricane Center to find out.
The list of names used by the National Hurricane Center are maintained by the United Nation’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO). Currently, only tropical cyclones are named in an official capacity; winter storms are not. The World Meteorological Organization from the United Nations develops a list of names for each ocean basin. In the United States, the National Hurricane Center maintains lists from the WMO for Atlantic Basin and eastern Pacific basin storms. Storms that form near Hawaii come from a list managed by the Central Pacific Hurricane Center.
Storms are named in alphabetical order each season in the Atlantic. “It is important to note that tropical cyclones/hurricanes are named neither after any particular person, nor with any preference in alphabetical sequence,” states the WMO. “The tropical cyclone/hurricane names selected are those that are familiar to the people in each region.”
In the Atlantic basin, there is a list of 21 names that are recycled every 6 years. Storms responsible for significant death/destruction are retired at annual WMO meetings. The WMO selects new names each year to replace the retired names. Otherwise, storm names are recycled every 6 years. Replacement names begin with the same first letter. As an example, 2016’s Matthew and Otto were retired and replaced with Martin and Owen, which could be used for the first time in 2022.
In the unusual event that there are more than twenty-one named tropical cyclones in the Atlantic basin in a single season, additional storms take names from the Greek alphabet. Due to the excessive number of named tropical cyclones this season, Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta have already been used this year. Of the bunch, Delta could be eligible for retirement due to its forecast impacts. Delta is currently a major hurricane and could be one or close to one as it makes landfall later tomorrow.
While ordinary names can be removed from the list that is recycled, what happens when a Greek letter is the name for a particularly potent storm?
Some media have speculated that it would be retired with it’s year, i.e. Delta-2020. However, the National Hurricane Center says that is not the case.
“The WMO Region IV does not have a policy regarding the retirement of a storm with a Greek Alphabet name,” Dennis Feltgen of the National Hurricane Center tells us. “Should it be presented with that scenario as a result of the 2020 season, it would be discussed at the next annual WMO Region IV meeting scheduled in Spring 2021.” Feltgen is the Communications & Public Affairs Officer and Meteorologist for the National Hurricane Center.
When asked about the concept of retiring a storm with its year, such as a hypothetical Delta-2020, Feltgen said, “I don’t know where that information originated, but it is not correct.”
With the hurricane season continuing through to the end of November, it’s very possible additional tropical cyclones will become named in the coming weeks. And it’s even possible storms could be named beyond the season.
In 2005, the name “Zeta” was used. Becoming a tropical depression on December 30 and intensifying to the season’s 28th tropical storm later that day, Zeta spilled over into 2006, reaching its peak strength on January 2, 2006. It later became a remnant low on January 6 and dissipated the next day.
If a storm forms in the off-season, it will take the next name in the list based on the current calendar date. For example, if a tropical cyclone formed on December 28th, it would take the name from the previous season’s list of names. If a storm formed in February, it would be named from the subsequent season’s list of names.
2005’s Zeta was the deepest into the Greek alphabet the season has ever brought us. Whether we see another Epsilon or Zeta this year or perhaps an Eta or Theta is within the realm of possibilities based on the pace of this year’s season.
Until then, thoughts and prayers are being shared with those in Delta’s path. It is hoped that it won’t be bad enough to warrant name retirement consideration, but the forecast is quite ominous.