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No more Greek letter-named hurricanes

Later, Eta.

Sororities and fraternities can keep their Greek letters — hurricanes will no longer use them.

The World Meteorological Organization, which maintains the rotating list of hurricane names and retires storm names when appropriate, has decided to stop using the Greek alphabet for naming storms. These letters were designated for especially active seasons when the list of 21 names was exhausted.

Last Atlantic hurricane season, with a record 30 named storms, used nine letter names from the Greek alphabet. It was only the second time the Greek alphabet was used to name storms.

According to the World Meteorological Organization, this caused several issues. Pulling out the Greek alphabet garnered a lot of attention — perhaps more attention than the storms themselves.

The pronunciation of several Greek letters (Zeta, Eta, Theta) is similar. It can be confusing when storms with similar sounding names occurring simultaneously. There can also be confusion when translating these names into other languages.

But perhaps the biggest issue is how to handle Greek alphabet names that need to be retired. There was no formal plan for retiring Greek names, and during the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season both Hurricane Eta and Hurricane Iota made landfall in Nicaragua as Category 4 storms. Hurricane Iota was the strongest storm at landfall in 2020.

James Franklin, former chief of forecast operations for the National Hurricane Center, suspected the Greek alphabet would be addressed by the Hurricane Committee, which serves North America, Central America and the Caribbean.

The issue had come up before, after the 2005 hurricane season (you remember, the one that included Katrina, Rita, and Wilma), but the Greek-letter-named storms were not big enough to be considered for name retirement, so the issue never got any traction. It’s different now, for obvious reasons. Most likely, there will be a separate B-list of names to use if and when the initial list of 21 names is exhausted, but the final decision is to be determined later. Just so you know.

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