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World Meteorological Organization Retires Four Storms and the Greek Alphabet

Tropical Cyclone Names 2020 Hurricane Season
National Hurricane Center
Tropical Cyclone Names 2020 Hurricane Season

The World Meteorological Organization’s (WMO) Hurricane Committee has retired Dorian (2019) and Laura, Eta and Iota (2020) from the rotating lists of...

The World Meteorological Organization’s (WMO) Hurricane Committee has retired Dorian (2019) and Laura, Eta and Iota (2020) from the rotating lists of Atlantic tropical cyclone names. Additionally, the committee has decided that the Greek alphabet will not be used in future hurricane seasons because it creates a distraction from communicating the hazards and storm warnings, and is potentially confusing. 

The meeting, which took place from March 15 to 17, reviewed the record-breaking 2020 Atlantic season and discussed preparations to the upcoming 2021 hurricane season, which included the provision of forecasts and warnings and the impact assessments for tropical cyclone hazards such as wind and storm surge. 

The Hurricane Committee was not able to meet and assess the 2019 Hurricane Season last year due to the unfolding COVID-19 crisis. Hurricane Dorian was the sole name retired from the 2019 season. Dorian attained Category 5 status and was the strongest hurricane to impact the northwestern Bahamas in modern records. The Inter-American Development Bank states that the storm left 29,500 people homeless and/or jobless. The name “Dexter” will replace Dorian and will be included in the list of names for the 2025 season. 

Hurricane Laura was the first major hurricane of the 2020 season achieving Category 4 strength on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. Landfall occurred close to peak strength near Cameron, Louisiana. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Laura was responsible for 47 direct deaths in the United States and Hispaniola and more than $19 billion in damages. The name “Leah” will replace Laura on the list of names for the 2026 season. 

Finally, Hurricanes Eta and Iota both made landfall less than two weeks apart in the same area just south of Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua. Extensive flooding across Central America resulted in 272 fatalities and damage estimates are estimated to be more than $9 billion, according to the WMO

The termination of the Greek alphabet was agreed upon at the meeting and Hurricane Committee members agreed to create a supplemental list of names that would be used in lieu of the Greek alphabet. Members of the committee outlined a few shortcomings with the Greek alphabet, saying that there can be too much focus on the use of the Greek alphabet and not the actual impacts of the storm. Additionally, there is confusion with some of the letters when they are translated into other languages. Finally, the pronunciation of some of the letters were thought to be too similar and occur in succession. 

The full discussion from the WMO Hurricane Committee can be found here.

The 2020 Hurricane Season was the most active season on record producing 31 total systems and 30 names storms. Out of the 30 named storms, 13 became hurricanes, six reached major classification (Category 3+) and one attained Category 5 strength on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. The 2020 season was also the second time on record that the Greek alphabet was utilized; the first being 2005. Twelve tropical cyclones made landfall in the contiguous United States and the season was also the fifth consecutive season in which at least one Category 5 hurricane developed. 

The National Hurricane Center stated that beginning in 2021 they will begin to issue tropical weather outlooks earlier, beginning on May 15th, and not on the official season start date which is June 1. This decision was made due to six consecutive seasons having cyclones form early. The WMO Hurricane Committee says that there will be no changes to the official start date of the Atlantic hurricane season in 2021. The hurricane season officially starts June 1st. 

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Dr. Athena Masson
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