We’re Almost Out of Hurricane Names! Then What?


For only the second time since the current tropical cyclone naming convention was created, we’ve almost run out of hurricane names!

Have no fear — other than of hurricanes themselves! As of Monday, Tropical Storm Vicky formed. That leaves the name Wilfred on the 2020 list and then we’re done. (At least for names; unfortunately, that probably won’t mean we’re done with this year’s storms!)

When we run out of hurricane names, the National Hurricane Center knows what to do next.

This last happened back in 2005, which was the first time it happened.

Each new hurricane season begins with a list of 21 names for that season’s storms. The World Meteorological Organization creates the lists of names. Why do they only create 21 names? Well, finding enough name possibilities for the letters Q,U, X, Y, and Z apparently seemed too difficult a challenge, so the WMO decided to skip those letters.

Some names may sound familiar. That’s because they reuse names.

In fact, every six years, a list of names repeats. The 2020 list of names was last used in 2014. In fact, the 2020 list is identical to the list used in 2014. That means no storm names got retired in 2014.

When a storm causes a large number of deaths or a large amount of damage, the WMO retires that name. They do so to avoid the appearance of insensitivity.

When they run out of names, they have a Plan B!

One thing I learned many years ago is to always have a Plan B. The 2005 Atlantic hurricane season proved you need a Plan B even with hurricane names.

Remember what happened on Oct. 22, 2005? That was the day the season’s 25th tropical depression formed. Later that same day, it strengthened into a tropical storm. But the W name, Wilma, had already been used.

So they went to the Greek alphabet. Tropical Depression 25, therefore, strengthened into Tropical Storm Alpha. The season then produced an additional five storms after that, meaning we went all the way through Tropical Storm Zeta.

Here’s the Greek alphabet in case you’ve forgotten some of the letters:

  • Alpha
  • Beta
  • Gamma
  • Delta
  • Epsilon
  • Zeta
  • Eta
  • Theta
  • Iota
  • Kappa
  • Lambda
  • Mu
  • Nu
  • Xi
  • Omicron
  • Pi
  • Rho
  • Sigma
  • Tau
  • Upsilon
  • Phi
  • Chi
  • Psi
  • Omega

It seemed likely early on that we’d reach into the Greek alphabet for this year’s Atlantic hurricane season.

I hope this is the last time we have that many!

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 29 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.