Hurricane Dorian at peak intensity on Sept. 1, 2019. Photo by NOAA

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By Peter Vankevich

Don’t expect to see another Hurricane Dorian or Laura–at least by name, not intensity.  Both names along with last November’s hurricanes, Eta and Iota, were added to a long list of retired names by the World Meteorological Organization’s (WMO) Hurricane Committee at its virtual three-day spring meeting on March 17.

The committee also decided to no longer use the Greek alphabet for storm names when the names selected for a given year are all used.

There were discussions of starting the official hurricane season earlier than June 1, but that date will not change this year. The reason for a possible earlier date is that tropical storms have formed in May for the past six years. Taking into consideration the increased early storm activity, the National Hurricane Center said it will begin issuing Tropical Weather Outlooks in May, weeks before the official start of hurricane season.

Last year’s early starting and record-breaking Atlantic hurricane season, a total of 30 named storms that included 13 hurricanes, went beyond the normal list of 21 storm names so the following were added: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Epsilon, Zeta, Eta, Theta and Iota.

Since 1954, the supplemental Greek letters were used only once before in the busy 2005 hurricane season.

A WMO press release stated the Greek alphabet will not be used in future because it creates a distraction from the communication of hazard and storm warnings and is potentially confusing.

According to the New York Times, the National Hurricane Center received inquiries from people who believed that Zeta was the last letter in the Greek alphabet and were asking what the next storm would be named. Zeta is only the sixth letter in the 24-letter Greek alphabet. Omega is the last.

Greek letters can be confusing when translated to other languages and the similarity of the sounds of the letters Zeta, Eta, and Theta were other reasons to no longer use this alphabet.

The Atlantic tropical cyclone name lists repeat every six years unless a storm is retired and would be replaced with another name starting with the same letter.

Here is the list of the 2021 Atlantic Basin storm names. The letters Q, U, X, Y and Z, which have few common names, are not used: Ana, Bill, Claudette, Danny, Elsa, Fred, Grace, Henri, Ida, Julian, Kate, Larry, Mindy, Nicholas, Odette, Peter, Rose, Sam, Teresa, Victor and Wanda.

The names selected come from one of six rotating alphabetic lists of 21 names. So, this list will be used again in 2027 with the possible exceptions that some storm names will be retired and replaced with other names.

Should there be more named storms this year, in lieu of the Greek alphabet, the following names will be used for the Atlantic Basin: Adria, Braylen, Caridad, Deshawn, Emery, Foster, Gemma, Heath, Isla, Jacobus, Kenzie, Lucio, Makayla,  Nolan, Orlanda, Pax, Ronin, Sophie, Tayshaun, Viviana and Will.

The practice of retiring storm names was begun by the United States Weather Bureau in 1955, after major hurricanes Carol, Edna and Hazel struck the Northeastern United States during the previous year. Initially their names were retired for 10 years, after which time they could be reintroduced, but in 1969, the policy was changed to have the names retired permanently.

The retirement of Hurricane Dorian (2019) was delayed due the cancellation of last year’s spring meeting over the concerns of COVID-19.

Dorian was a Category 5 hurricane that at one time had winds peaking at 185 mph and surpassed Hurricane Irma of 2017 to become the most powerful Atlantic hurricane on record outside of the Caribbean Sea. Dorian was the worst natural disaster to strike the Bahamas in the country’s history. Dorian also is now one of the worst hurricanes to strike Ocracoke Island, and the island-wide inundation from it was the most damage than any other place in the continental United States. On the rotating list, scheduled for 2025, it will be replaced with Dexter.

Laura, in 2020, caused major devastation as it crossed the Atlantic from its origins off the coast of Africa striking the Lesser Antilles, the island of Hispaniola and across the length of Cuba. It continued its trek west across the Gulf of Mexico making landfall on Cameron, Louisiana, killing 33 people and caused approximately $19 billion in damage in the state. Leah will replace Laura on the list of names in 2026.

Hurricanes Eta and Iota both made landfall as Category 4 storms less than two weeks apart during November 2020 in the same area of the Nicaraguan coast just south of Puerto Cabezas. They caused extensive flooding in the Central American countries, resulting in at least 272 fatalities and damage losses of more than $9 billion. In the list of retired names, they will be Eta 2020 and Iota 2020.

1 COMMENT

  1. It seems an unnecessary amount of time and effort is expended annually in assigning tropical storm names. It also appears that efforts are made to be diverse in choosing them. Then, we have the task of retiring names of notable storms to prevent ambiguity. This could ALL be avoided by a very simple numerical designation system: i.e. 2 digit year, 2 digit month, sequence in month. Under that system the second storm in August of the 2021 season would be named 21-08-02. It never repeats within a century. It has no gender, race, or sexual preference connotations. It’ no harder to remember than “Eustatia,” or whatever.

    It’s one fault is that it’s too logical.

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