If you studied the Greek alphabet during last year’s hurricane season, forget it! From now on, Greek letters won’t be used for storm names.
The World Meteorological Organization announced we’ll no longer rely on Greek letters to name hurricanes. I don’t necessarily agree with their reasoning.
As I’ve said in the past, the WMO is the body that oversees — among other things — the rotating list of storm names we use each hurricane season. They created a set of six lists and rotate them each year. So the storm names we’ll use for 2021’s hurricane season are the ones we last used in 2015.
After each season, they debate whether they should retire certain names. They do that when a particular storm causes so many fatalities, injuries or damage that using it again might be considered insensitive to previous victims.
This week, for example, WMO announced it would retire four names. Dorian — which was actually from the 2019 hurricane season — won’t ever be used again. (They couldn’t meet last year to make that decision because of the pandemic. In the future, the name Dexter will take Dorian’s former slot. From the 2020 season, the season with the most storms ever named, they decided to retire Laura. When it’s time to talk about the 2025 list, Laura will be replaced with Leah. But they also decided to retire the Greek letters Eta and Iota.
As CNN pointed out, the original plan was that letters from the Greek alphabet would never be retired. But they probably decided upon that thinking we wouldn’t get far enough into that alphabet to bother.
Since they retired those two letters, you’ll probably assume they’ll be the only ones missing in future lists. But it turns out you won’t find any Greek letters on any future list…not even this year’s.
Each list of names contains 21 options. They skip some letters they feel won’t have enough names starting with that letter to be able to come up with the initial six options plus a longer list of potential replacements. They came up with the idea of using the Greek alphabet in the almost-unfathomable event they went through all 21 names in a single season.
It happened in 2005 for the first time. That year, we made it to the sixth letter of the Greek alphabet, Zeta. Then last year happened. The 2020 season broke 2005’s record, producing 30 storms that took us through Iota.
Going forward, they’ll use yet another set of names. They’ll have a standby list of alternate names.
The reason for the change? Well, there are a few.
One reason involved people focusing too much on the novelty of a name rather than the danger the storm could cause. But after names like Isaias, I think the “unusual” name argument loses a bit of steam.
Another reason, according to the Washington Post, is that some Greek letters sound too much alike. Zeta, Eta and Theta fall one after the other.
“During the 2020 season, these three storms occurred at the same time, leading to messaging difficulties, according to members of the committee, which includes representatives from the National Hurricane Center in Miami,” the post reported.
That argument does make sense. When you have rhyming names all spinning around at the same time, it does to tend to make things confusing, especially if you’re listening to a radio report or you aren’t watching a television report where you can see the names spelled out and their paths illustrated.
So what does all of this mean for 2021?
Here’s the list of regular names:
Then, after Wanda, we’d go to the supplemental list of names. Get a load of some of these:
If we’re really worried about how some Greek letters had strange-sounding names, they might want to look at a handful of the names on the alternate list!
In any case, I’m hoping we won’t get anywhere near the second set of names in 2021.
After last year’s hurricane season and a pandemic, we’re due for a major break.