It's been a record-setting year for storms in the Atlantic basin. If the pace and intensity continues through the season -- which runs from June 1 to November 30 -- the tropical storm count may blow past the 21 names set aside to identify storms, considering the current count is 20.
That's only happened one other time in recorded history, in 2005 when 28 storms churned up in the Atlantic. That year saw several strong hurricanes, including Katrina, Rita, and Wilma.
As of Wednesday, there have been 20 named tropical storms (with seven storms tracking at once), well above the average of 12 named storms in an entire season.
THE NAMING OF A STORM
According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the names designated to Atlantic storms are chosen years in advance.
The WMO selects the names to help with quick identification in warning messages. Human, gendered names are used because they are easier for the public to remember than numbers and technical terminology.
Names are alphabetical, starting with A every season. The letters Q, U, X, Y, and Z are omitted due low availability of Euro-centric names starting with those letters.
Sometimes, names are taken out of circulation. In 2019, for example, the names Florence and Michael were retired due to the widespread intensity and destruction caused by hurricanes Florence and Michael the previous year.
Non-retired names cycle through every six years.
WHAT HAPPENS IF ALL THE NAMES ARE USED?
If all the names assigned to a given season are used, the solution is simple: Forecasters switch to another alphabet.
The Greek alphabet.
“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,” the National Hurricane Center says in a statement on its website.
In the event there is a 22nd named storm, it will be named Alpha, followed by Beta, Gamma, and so on. That frees up 24 additional names meteorologists can use.
It's still unknown if we will have to source the Greek alphabet this year, but with only one remaining name left and over two month of hurricane season left, it's likely.
Thumbnail image courtesy: Hurricane Laura/NASA satellite