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The ominous, potential scenario in Atlantic basin: Running out of names

Posted at 12:09 PM, Aug 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-06 15:01:22-04

As the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season continues to shatter records, Dr. Philip Klotzbach and Colorado State's updated season forecast for the Atlantic basin that came out yesterday raised an important question: "What happens if we run out of names?"

Klotzbach and Colorado State predict another 15 named storms will form in the Atlantic before the season comes to a close at the end of November. That is on top of the 9 (yes, 9) named storms that have already formed in the basin this season.

Rob has already posted an article to where he breaks down Klotzbach's numbers and examines the likelihood/statistics of a tropical impact to the Gulf Coast this season, so I won't spend too much time on that, but make sure to check out his separate article as well because it is an informative read (

To answer the original question brought up above, we first must understand how the naming of tropical systems in the Atlantic come about.

An international committee of The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is now responsible for maintaining and updating the naming of tropical systems in the Atlantic that were first put in place by the National Hurricane Center back in 1953.

In the Atlantic basin, 21 names are already chosen for a year which are then placed in alphabetical order (The letters Q,U,X,Y,Z are exempt from the naming list).

Those set of names rotate on a six year basis (Meaning a set of names will reappear every six years). So get ready, we will be mispronouncing/botching Cristobal and Isaias once again in six years time.

But... what is up with those difficult to pronounce names anyways? Is the committee trying to make us look silly on air? Well... not really. In the Atlantic basin, the committee selects origins of names that correspond to the areas that the tropical systems impact.

While the U.S. sees its fair share of activity through the course of the season, places like Mexico, other parts of central America, and the Caribbean islands often are impacted by tropical systems in the Atlantic just as much. A lot of these countries and islands are Spanish-speaking, so you'll often see names in the list that reflect that.

While some of the names can be challenging to pronounce, I use it as a chance to broaden my horizon and try to learn something new in the process!

Now the only time a name will not reappear in the six year rotation is if a particular named storm is so destructive and damaging to life and property that it warrants that name to be retired and never used again (e.g. Katrina). In this case, a new name will be selected.

Back to the updated forecast.. With a little bit of math, we can determine that Klotzbach's prediction of 24 named storms this season would put us over the 21 names we have on the list.

We usually never go into a season thinking that we will run out of names because it is quite frankly, unheard of. In fact, the only time this occurred was during the notorious 2005 season.

In the event we make it all the way through Wilfred during this season, the Greek alphabet would be brought in to continue naming storms. For instance, Tropical Storm Alpha would follow Wilfred and so on.

It is important to keep in mind that naming these tropical systems is critically valuable for the safety of the public and emergency crews during the season, especially if more than one storm is ongoing at the same time. It keeps confusion down, and is the most informative way to relay important messages to the public.

**This part is important! Just because a season is forecasted to be "extremely active" does not mean numerous storms will impact the Gulf Coast. It simply means that activity is likely to be enhanced in the Atlantic based on the data examined, but keep in mind that some of these storms may re-curve out to sea and not be much of a threat to anyone. Of course, we want as many of those type of storms as possible!

The message remains the same from me: I know the updated forecasts seem ominous, but I never want to stir up fear or anxiety to anyone when it comes to the hurricane season. Instead, I'd rather all of you have a plan in place in the event we see a storm head our way. My main goal is to make sure you, your families, and property remain as safe as possible through the remainder of the season.

I must add that the tropics are actually quiet at this time.

The KATC storm team remains committed in providing you at home with the most accurate, up to date information, so make sure to stay with us for the very latest. Y'all have a great end to the week and weekend!

- Bradley