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The 2021 Hurricane Season Won't Use Greek Letters For Storms

This combination of satellite images provided by the National Hurricane Center shows the 30 named storms that developed during the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season.
National Hurricane Center via AP
This combination of satellite images provided by the National Hurricane Center shows the 30 named storms that developed during the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season.

The 2020 hurricane season was so prolific that the National Hurricane Center used up its roster of 21 alphabetized storm names. When that happens, the government pulls in the Greek alphabet. But don't expect to see Hurricane Alpha or Beta again.

Turns out the names were Greek to a lot of people, and forecasters worried about creating confusion.

"Some of those were very difficult to translate into other languages," says Kenneth Graham of the National Hurricane Center. "In our region we have French. We have Portuguese, Spanish and English."

Nine tropical storms used the Greek alphabet in the record-breaking 2020 Atlantic hurricane season. That's deeper into the Greek alphabet than the National Hurricane Center has ever had to go.

"The Greek letters, we don't have to use them much, but we don't need any sort of distraction" from communicating storm warnings, he says. For example, Graham says, with Hurricane Zeta — the sixth letter of the Greek alphabet — "there were so many phone calls and inquiries" because people incorrectly thought it was the last letter.

On the advice of the World Meteorological Organization, Greek letters will be dropped and the National Hurricane Center will just have to have more names ready, just in case, in 2021.

"Those [names] have to be as pronounceable as we can in all the languages, not offensive in any language, and really we don't want any of those to have alternate meanings," he says.

Greek letters were used once before — in 2005, Graham says, after another busy storm season ripped through the names on the government's list.

"We have a list that rotates every six years — a standing list that repeats," Graham says. Storms that cause great damage and fatalities can have their names retired and replaced, like Katrina in 2005 and Dorian in 2019.

So forecasters this year will have a supplemental list of hurricane names — from Adria to Will — just in case.

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Barry Gordemer is an award-winning producer, editor, and director for NPR's Morning Edition. He's helped produce and direct NPR coverage of two Persian Gulf wars, eight presidential elections, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and hurricanes Katrina and Harvey. He's also produced numerous profiles of actors, musicians, and writers.
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