Busy hurricane season sees scientists run out of storm names for second time since 1950 when naming started
The first time scientists ran out of names was in the 2005 season and this year, the season is far from over
This year, the hurricane season has been so active that the National Hurricane Center (NHC) has exhausted its list of storm names, and this is only the second time since naming storms began in 1950. Having reached the end of the alphabetical list of 21 Atlantic tropical storm names for 2020 with tropical Storm Wilfred on September 18, the naming protocol for all subsequent storms will now consist of names pulled from the Greek alphabet as decided by the World Meteorological Organization. The first was during the 2005 hurricane season, which had six Greek-letter storms.
Wilfred became the earliest 21st named storm, on record in the Atlantic basin, beating out Vince, which formed on October 8, 2005, according to Philip Klotzbach, a meteorologist at Colorado State University.
Low pressure area in Gulf of Mexico now has 90% chance of tropical cyclone formation in next 48 hours per National #Hurricane Center. Next Atlantic name is #Wilfred and would be 21st named storm of season. Current record for earliest Atlantic 21st named storm is Vince (10/8/2005) pic.twitter.com/EgEgHnbIpX— Philip Klotzbach (@philklotzbach) September 17, 2020
The wait was not for long. Soon after, subtropical storm Alpha formed near the coast of Portugal on September 18, about 75 miles north of Lisbon. Alpha set a new record for the earliest 22nd-named storm to develop in the basin, forming nearly one month earlier than the previous record-holder for that title, Wilma from 2005. “Subtropical storm Alpha is the first storm to take a name from the first letter of the Greek alphabet (in 2020). This is only the second time the Greek alphabet has been used to name storms. The first was during the 2005 hurricane season, where the last-named storm was Zeta,” explains the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Later on September 18 afternoon, tropical storm Beta was named after it strengthened over the western Gulf of Mexico. This makes Beta the 23rd named storm of 2020. Alpha from 2005, which formed on October 22, was the first-ever storm to be named a Greek letter.
“One of the biggest surprises this year has been how consistently we have been breaking records for the earliest named storm for their rank. For example, Edouard became the earliest fifth named storm on July 6, beating 2005’s Emily by a week. Fay was the earliest sixth named storm, showing up almost two weeks earlier than Franklin did in 2005. Wilfred was the earliest to run out the list of designated storm names,” writes Kimberly Wood, assistant professor of meteorology at the Mississippi State University, in The Conversation. She adds, “Even more surprising is that we reached the 23rd tropical storm of the year, Beta, more than a month earlier than in 2005, the only other year on record with so many named storms. The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season is far from over. With the new storms, forecasters shifted from the alphabetical list of people’s names to letters of the Greek alphabet.”
The NOAA had earlier warned that atmospheric and oceanic conditions were primed to fuel storm development in the Atlantic, leading to what could be an “extremely active” season this year. The current season could bring up to 25 named storms with winds of at least 39 mph (63 km/h). This is the highest number ever predicted by the agency in a single season.
In May, the NOAA had forecasted that there was a 60% chance of an above-normal hurricane season this year, a 30% chance of a near-normal season, and only a 10% chance of a below-normal season. However, in August, the agency predicted that the likelihood of an above-normal Atlantic hurricane season has increased to 85%, with only a 10% chance of a near-normal season and a 5% chance of a below-normal season. “The updated outlook calls for 19-25 named storms (winds of 39 mph or greater), of which 7 to 11 will become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or greater), including 3 to 6 major hurricanes (winds of 111 mph or greater),” explain scientists.