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National Hurricane Center Won't Use Greek Letters To Name 2021's Cyclones

Hurricane Hanna is the first hurricane of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season.
Hurricane Hanna is the first hurricane of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season.

TPR's Jerry Clayton recently spoke with Dr. Michael Brennan, branch chief of the National Hurricane Center's hurricane specialist unit about hurricane names and the upcoming season.

Jerry Clayton: There were more hurricanes in the Atlantic Basin than there were names for them. Instead, Greek alphabet letters were used when the names ran out. That won't happen this year. Here to talk about that and some other hurricane news is Dr. Michael Brennan, branch chief of the National Hurricane Center's hurricane specialist unit. Thanks for joining us today, Dr. Brennan.

Dr. Michael Brennan: Yeah, glad to join you.

Clayton: Recently, the World Meteorological Organization, which is in charge of hurricane names worldwide, announced that they're not going to use the Greek alphabet any longer when the hurricane season — or if the hurricane season — runs out of names, as happened last year. How is this process going to work?

Brennan: Well, at this point, as you mentioned in the past, when we ran through and exhausted the list of names for a given season, we would in the past go on and start using the Greek alphabet to name storms, which we've done twice now, 2005 in the last year and 2020 at this point, moving forward. Now we're going to create a special supplemental named list that'll be available for us to use as basically an overflow list. But it'll be a list of actual names, not the Greek alphabet. So it'll be sort of more like the names that are on the standard name list each year.

Clayton: Did the Greek alphabet system cause some confusion?

Brennan: Yeah, I think there was the opportunity for that. There was just a lot of attention paid to the fact that we were just using Greek letters to begin with, which sort of could cause some distraction away from the impacts of the actual storms themselves. In addition, and some of the language is used in the Atlantic basin, the Greek letters are confusing sounding, and we have several of them, like Zeta, Theta, Eta, that all occur in succession to each other and sound very similar even in English. And that was potentially confusing because we had some of those same storms going on in close proximity to each other. So, you know, the other issue we ran into was that we had two very severe hurricanes make landfall in Central America late season ... that both warranted being retired and not used anymore as names. But if you're going to use a Greek alphabet, you can't start retiring the names on the Greek alphabet. So that was that was sort of a barrier to continuing to use the Greek alphabet going forward as well.

2020 Names.jpg

Clayton: The Atlantic hurricane season has started on June 1 for over 50 years now. There's talk of moving the date up to May 15. Do you think this is going to happen?

Brennan: Well, we're looking into it. The change we're making for this year is we're going to start issuing our routine tropical weather outlooks on May 15, because over the past several years, we've had quite a few storms develop in late May. And those tend to form very close to the United States, sometimes in the Gulf of Mexico, sometimes off the southeast U.S. coast. And so we want to provide sort of more regular continuous updates on the potential for systems to form in late May. We've got a team that's looking into potentially moving the start of the hurricane season back. But we're going to sort of take a look at that from a scientific perspective and see what what should really the balance of the hurricane season be and then finish that up and then we'll sort of look at the advantages and disadvantages that might exist from making any changes to the start of hurricane season. But that won't be happening here in 2021.

Clayton: Now, I know it may be a little early, but are there any early predictions on this year's Atlantic hurricane season?

Brennan: Well, at this point, NOAA doesn't release its seasonal forecast until May. But the main message we always try to convey to everybody, certainly there in Texas, is that you have to be ready for it, be prepared for every season as if you're going to be hit. The Texas coast is very vulnerable to hurricanes. You had a hurricane make landfall there last year — Hanna — we had a category four hurricane make landfall just to the east of the Texas-Louisiana border last season. And we've seen the Gulf of Mexico obviously can be very, very vulnerable to hurricanes that can form very close to land and not give a lot of lead time before they reach the coast. So everybody has to be prepared, know the risk as we go into every season.

Clayton Dr. Michael Brennan, thank you so much for joining us today. We appreciate the work that you do.

Brennan Thanks so much. Appreciate it.

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