TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — The World Meteorological Organization has decided to make some major changes when it comes to naming tropical cyclones during hurricane season.
The organization’s Hurricane Committee announced Wednesday that the Greek alphabet will no longer be used to name tropical cyclones. The Greek alphabet was used whenever the annual list of tropical cyclone names was exhausted for the year before the end of hurricane season. That’s happened twice in the past 15 years in the Atlantic basin — once in 2005 and again during last year’s hyperactive 2020 hurricane season.
According to a news release from the WMO, members of the Hurricane Committee agreed it’s likely the list of names will be exhausted again in the future but said the 2020 hurricane season revealed a “number of shortcomings” when using the Greek alphabet.
“There can be too much focus on the use of Greek alphabet names and not the actual impacts from the storm. This can greatly detract from the needed impact and safety messaging,” the WMO explained, adding, “There is confusion with some Greek alphabet names when they are translated into other languages used within the Region.”
The committee also pointed out the pronunciation of several Greek letters are similar and caused messaging challenges in 2020 because, “this resulted in storms with very similar sounding names occurring simultaneously.”
Moving forward, the committee agreed to use a supplemental list of Atlantic tropical cyclone names instead of using the Greek alphabet if the regular annual list is exhausted.
The WMO also announced Wednesday it was retiring four tropical cyclone names.
One of the names, Dorian, was from the devastating Category 5 hurricane that lashed the Bahamas in 2019. It will be replaced by the name Dexter in the rotating list of tropical cyclone names.
“The Hurricane Committee agreed on the retirement of names from 2020, along with 2019, because this was not on the agenda of last year’s Hurricane Committee due to the unfolding COVID-19 crisis,” the WMO said.
Three storm names from 2020 were also retired: Laura, Eta and Iota.
Laura was a powerful Category 4 hurricane that hit the Gulf Coast of Louisiana in August. That name will be replaced with Leah.
Hurricane Eta and Hurricane Iota made landfall in the same area of Nicaragua less than two weeks apart in November. The retiring of Eta and Iota played a role in the decision to stop using the Greek alphabet, according to members of the Hurricane Committee.
“There was no formal plan for retiring Greek names, and the future use of these names would be inappropriate,” the committee said.
The decisions announced Wednesday were made during the Hurricane Committee’s virtual session, during which it “reviewed the record-breaking 2020 Atlantic season and fine-tuned preparations for 2021, including the provision of forecasts and warnings, as well as impact assessments, for wind, storm surge and flooding hazards.”
Last month, it was announced that the National Hurricane Center will start routinely issuing Tropical Weather Outlooks earlier this year, starting on May 15.
Dennis Feltgen with the NOAA said that change is being made to “provide more consistent information on the potential for late May and early June systems” and pointed out that the NHC issued 36 “special” Tropical Weather Outlooks before the official June 1 start of the hurricane season in 2020.
Feltgen also said there have been discussions about potentially moving the start of the hurricane season to May 15 instead of June 1. Regardless of what happens with those discussions and any potential changes, the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season will not be impacted and will start on June 1 as usual.