The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season is only the second in which we’ve had to use a Greek hurricane name. But what if one must be retired?
The World Meteorological Organization decided that when we use the last storm name, the next would be a Greek hurricane name. That is, with the 22nd named storm of the season, we name storms after Greek alphabet letters.
The 2020 season is only the second this has happened. The first, the 2005 hurricane season, went through the first six Greek letters, ending with Tropical Storm Zeta. Zeta formed in December of 2005 and faded away in January of 2006.
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.
The last names to be officially retired were from the 2018 list. You won’t see another Hurricane Florence or Michael. The organization made that decision in 2019. They postponed this year’s meeting, which would have decided which names from the 2019 list — if any — would be scrapped.
So next year, assuming the pandemic is under control, we will find out whether any of 2019’s or 2020’s names get the ax.
Since this is only the second time we’ve resorted to a Greek hurricane name and since none have been that bad, yet, retiring one hasn’t come up.
Sooner or later, a storm we name after a Greek letter could wreak serious havoc.
Would they really retire a Greek hurricane name?
Yes. And no.
Earlier this year, The Daily Advertiser tackled the question.
Yes, if a storm named after a Greek letter were bad enough, that name would be added to the retired list. They found a WMO blog post that says so.
But then it says this: “The Committee also agreed that it was not practical to ‘retire into hurricane history’ a letter in the Greek Alphabet.”
A Greek letter might one day find itself on the retired list. But the committee decided it would still remain available for use.
Will the National Hurricane Center take “retired” to mean “retired” and not use a “retired” Greek letter? Probably not, since the rest of the world would have to agree so we didn’t have one storm with multiple names. The idea behind storms, after all, is to make them easy to track and understand for the general public.
The best we can hope for is that when we ever have to borrow a name from the Greek alphabet, that it never ends up being bad enough that the retirement argument would even come into play.