What happens when we run out of hurricane names?

Yes, you can give one Iota

Tropical Storm Cristobal from early June
Tropical Storm Cristobal from early June

It seems like yesterday we were all having trouble pronouncing Tropical Storm Cristobal. Now, we’ve stepped up to Teddy and Vicky, with both of those names being used today.

Tropical Storm Teddy's track forecast and looks like it will make Cat 3 strength

And the truth is, we’re almost out of names! The World Meteorological Organization is in charge of the six lists of names (which rotate every six years -- this year’s list is the same as 2008 with Isaias replacing Ike). They’ve chosen not to use five letters -- Q, U, X, Y and Z -- because, apparently, those letters are hard to find names for. So, we only have 21 names each year.

Here’s the 2020 list:

We ran out of names in 2005 (the Katrina/Rita year) when the National Hurricane Center named 27 storms -- six of them got Greek alphabet names. Here’s that list:

Here’s the big question

We almost assuredly will get to the Greek alphabet given we only have one name left and two solid months of hurricane season to go (Nov. 30th ends the official season). What happens if we have a Greek alphabet storm that causes catastrophic damage or death and the name needs to be retired? We can’t just ditch Alpha or Beta can we?

I reached out to Dennis Feltgen, Communications & Public Affairs Officer at the National Hurricane Center, and asked him exactly what would happen. His reply: “The WMO RA-IV does not have a policy for that issue. If it occurs, it will discuss and decide at its meeting in 2021.”

My suggestion is to accomplish this BEFORE it becomes necessary and when we go into the Greek Alphabet add 2020 after the name, so if Alpha2020 needs to be retired, no problem. I’ll keep you posted.


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About the Author:

KPRC 2's chief meteorologist with three decades of experience forecasting Houston's weather.