As the 2005 Atlantic Hurricane Season draws to a close today, we must look towards the future. With 26 named storms, 2005 has been by far the busiest year ever.
Traditionally there have been six lists of names which were rotated every year, so Arlene, which was the first Tropical Storm of 2005, would be repeated in 2011.
When a storm causes significant loss of life or property, its name is retired, as was done with Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and Hurricanes Charley and Ivan last year, and that name is replaced with another of the same letter. Colin and Igor were replacements for the aforementioned names.
Never before has the Atlantic conjured up so many storms in one season. All 21 names for 2005 were used up (Q, U, X, Y and Z are not used) and we were forced to use letters of the Greek alphabet, long designated as the back-up list. So far this year we've used Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and Epsilon.
But, as National Hurricane Center Spokesman Frank Lepore asks, "The issue is, what happens if you have to retire a Greek alphabet letter?" In October of this year, Tropical Storm Alpha was formed and killed 42 in the Caribbean. A case could be made for retirement of that name in addition to the half-dozen other names that will probably be retired this year. Utilizing an incomplete Greek alphabet is not an optimal solution.
There are 11 different tropical regions in the world, assigned by the World Meteorological Organization, a part of the United Nations. In most of them the names are not rotated every year, like the Atlantic and Eastern Pacific lists are. Instead, as in the Fiji Region, there are several lists of names and they are used sequentially. For instance, if the last named storm of the year is Joni, then Ken would be the first storm of the next year. With 5 alphabetical lists, the likelihood of running out of names is very slim.
The Phillipine region is similar to the Atlantic, with rotating lists of names, but instead of using the Greek alphabet as a backup, the WMO has 10 A-J names if needed.
The current proposal is to have a backup list, similar to the Fiji region. Keeping the current 6 year rotation and having a seventh alphabetical list of names which would be used as a backup, preventing any issues with retiring Greek letters.
The World Meteorological Organization will meet in Puerto Rico this winter and will discuss the list reorganization and name retirements.
Possible retirements this year include Katrina, Rita, Stan, Wilma, and Alpha with the last not being replaced because of the possible discontinued use of the Greek alphabet in naming.
For more information:
National Hurricane Center's list of storm names: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/aboutnames.shtml
Why do we name hurricanes? http://www.aoml.noaa.gov/general/lib/reason.html
Retired hurricane names from the last 50 years: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/retirednames.shtml
The World Meteorological Organization: http://www.wmo.ch/index-en.html