To say that our 2020 tropical season here in the Atlantic has been active would be an understatement. For only the second time in recorded history, the Greek alphabet is being used for the remainder of this year’s Atlantic tropical season. This means that we’ve run out of our original preset list of names for 2020, and now have to move on to another list of names with a total of 23 named systems so far. PLUS we’re already on the second letter in the Greek alphabet with 3 newly named storms in a matter of in a matter of less than 12 hours!
For perspective, this has only happened ONE other time. Back in 2005, we made it all the way to “Zeta.” The other catch here is that the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season is more than a MONTH ahead of the 2005 season. They didn’t see their Alpha storm until the end of October, and we’re not even out of September.
Here’s the current situation:
Tropical system Wilfred formed in the gulf earlier this morning, which means we’re fresh out of names in the English alphabet to use for naming tropical systems.
I don’t think there is a soul living on earth right now who has seen the NHC Active Tropical Cyclone map look quite like this. There’s something to be said about having tropical disturbances, a tropical depression, storm, and a major hurricane all in one map in ONE basin.
Now, just before noon on this Friday it was anticipated that Tropical Depression 22 would be the first named storm to make the Greek alphabet, but things took a slight change…
If you look near the top right corner of the cyclone map above, you can just barely see the “A” from the latest tropical system Alpha that formed, and it’s BARELY visible on the map itself!
Spinning all the way across the northeast Atlantic, sub-tropical storm Alpha is born, and it’s all the way across the ocean just offshore of Portugal. This storm is not expected to last very long as an official tropical system, but is still expected to bring some heavy rain and wind to those areas way across the ocean.
Why is it considered subtropical? It’s because it contains both characteristics of a tropical system, and extra-tropical system. Tropical systems typically have warm cores and form in tropical waters, and subtropical systems are typically weaker, more spread out, and have colder air within their core. In a sense it’s a hybrid between the two types.
In other BREAKING tropical news, our second named storm in the Greek alphabet, “Beta” was officially named just this earlier this Friday evening in the Gulf of Mexico.
This tropical storm is anticipated to affect parts of the Texas coast with both strong winds and flooding rains as it strengthens into a hurricane after this weekend.
You can see the full list of Greek alphabet names below:
Now that we know what happens when we run out of the original list of tropical names, let’s ask this question:
What happens if the NHC has to retire a Greek letter named storm?
Hurricane names are typically retired when they’ve done catastrophic damage to communities.
According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), it was felt that it would be “impractical” to retire a Greek named storm “into hurricane history” since the situations it would take to warrant their use were not expected to be frequent enough. With that said, it was decided that if the situation came up where they would have to retire the storm because it devastated a community, they would merely “rename” the storm with the year of impact and other details attached to it.
This could potentially create some issues for some, specifically those who feel like a significant storm that heavily and tragically impacted their community, was reused again for another community. It would be like this:
Imagine if the name Hurricane Katrina was brought back as another strong storm to impact the U.S. When you talk about Katrina, almost everyone knows exactly what you’re talking about. Now imagine that there were two of them in recorded history. Those who were affected by the storm may have some feelings about that.
All in all, we are all a part of Atlantic hurricane history right now. Could this be on the way to beating 2005 in being the busiest tropical season ever recorded? Only time will tell.
~Meteorologist Christine Gregory