LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – September is the peak of the Atlantic Hurricane season when most tropical activity occurs before the season ends on November 30. It’s been a very active season–so active that we only have 1 name, Wilfred, left on the list for the 2020 Atlantic tropical season.
Given how busy it has been, it is likely we will run out of names on this year’s designated list. If that happens, the Greek alphabet will be used for naming more tropical systems. This would only be the second time in modern naming history that the use of the Greek alphabet for a tropical season has been needed.
The first time and only time, so far, the Greek alphabet was used due to extreme tropical activity in one season was in 2005 when we had historic storms like Katrina and Rita. That year, there was a total of 27 named storms with Zeta being the last. Zeta is the 6th name on the Greek list.
The standard repeating 6 year list of tropical cyclone names is below and is maintained by the World Meteorological Organization with input from counties located withing the Tropical Atlantic Basin. In the event a significant or catastrophic Tropical Storm or Hurricane occurs and that name is retired, a replacement name is selected. Allison (2001) and Erika (2015) are the only storm names retired that never became hurricanes but still caused tremendous damage. The most recent hurricane name retired was Michael, a Category 5 storm that caused tremendous damage in the Florida Panhandle in 2018. There is no mechanism currently in place to retire a Greek alphabet storm name if it results in significant or catastrophic damage.
For clarity, modern naming history dates back to 1979 when the current name structure was implemented – 21 names, different letter of the alphabet (no Q, U, X, Y or Z), alphabetical order and male/female alternation. The naming of tropical systems via the phonetic alphabet dates back to 1953.