What Happens If The Atlantic Hurricane Season Runs Out Of Names?

Hurricane Isaias is approaching Florida and is likely to impact parts of the East Coast over the next few days. It is the ninth named storm of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season. Even as I write this, NOAA’s National Hurricane Center is monitoring two additional systems that could be named within days (more on them later). As a reminder, it is August 1st, and we could see the 10th and 11th named storms of the season. That’s not normal folks. There are 21 names on the list so what happens if we run out of names?

Before we answer that question, let’s quickly review the hurricane naming process. According to a NOAA website, “Since 1953, Atlantic tropical storms had been named from lists originated by the National Hurricane Center….They are now maintained and updated through a strict procedure by an international committee of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO.” There is a rotation of six lists that are recycled every six years, which means the 2020 list will come back around in 2026. Occasionally, a name is retired from the list if it is of historical significance in terms of cost or fatalities.

Many tropical weather experts have called for at least 20 named storms this season. It is certainly possible. If Josephine were named in the coming days, it would be the tenth named storm of 2020. Climatologically, the tenth named storm would happen around October 19th. The eleventh named storm would be expected in late November. In 2020, the “K” storm (Kyle) could happen within a few days. According to the National Hurricane Center (NHC), a system located northeast of the Leeward Islands has a 60% chance of development within five days. NHC is already issuing advisories on Tropical Depression Ten in the far eastern Atlantic Ocean.

As a reminder, the climatological peak of the Atlantic hurricane season is around the second weak of September, which means that August is normally when we start to see a major ramp up of tropical cyclone activity. The year 2020 being, well, 2020 is writing a new script. Records are dropping like flies this season so it is not far-fetched to start asking whether 21 names will be enough this year.

According to the National Hurricane Center website, “In the event that more than twenty-one named tropical cyclones occur in the Atlantic basin in a season, additional storms will take names from the Greek alphabet.” In 2005, six storms were named with the Greek letter alphabet. Twenty-seven names storms beat the record of 21 storms in 1933 according to NASA. The tracks for those storms are shown below. Zeta formed December 30th after the official end to the season and is not shown.

Buckle up and wear your masks.

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