That means that 2005 and 2020 will go down in history as the only Atlantic hurricane seasons to extend into the Greek alphabet, with 2020 breaking the record for the most named storms with 30, more than two and a half times the seasonal average. The naming change is being made for several reasons, the WMO said in a news release.
For one, there can be too much of an emphasis placed on the storm’s unusual name, and less on the likely impacts of the potentially deadly weather. Second, some Greek alphabet names can be confusing when translated into other languages spoken in countries across the North Atlantic Ocean Basin, the WMO stated.
The Atlantic hurricane committee manages storm names for North America, Central America and the Caribbean.
In addition, several of the Greek letters that occur one after the other — namely Zeta, Eta and Theta — sound similar and occur in secession. During the 2020 season, these three storms occurred at the same time, leading to messaging difficulties, according to members of the committee, which includes representatives from the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
The 2020 hurricane season featured 13 hurricanes and six major hurricanes. A record 12 named Atlantic storms made landfall in the Lower 48, including five in Louisiana.
Two of those landfalls, hurricanes Laura and Delta, were within 15 miles of each other, and both struck the Lake Charles, La., area. From Texas to Maine, all but six coastal counties saw tropical storm winds in 2020. Ominously, 10 storms rapidly intensified, their peak winds strengthening by at least 35 mph in 24 hours, tying 1995 for the most in a single season.
Studies have shown rapid intensification is becoming more likely as ocean waters warm because of climate change.
The WMO committee decided to retire four storm names in 2021 because of the death and destruction they caused. They retired Hurricane Dorian from 2019, which decimated the northwest Bahamas. (It was not retired in 2020 because the issue was not on the agenda of the committee due to the unfolding coronavirus crisis.) The storms retired from 2020 were Laura, Eta and Iota.
The retirement of hurricanes Eta and Iota mark the first two retirements of Greek-named storms on record. Eta and Iota both struck near Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, only 15 miles apart and within a span of two weeks, bringing Category 4 impacts to the coast and feet of rain to parts of Central America.
The decision to abandon the use of Greek names in future hurricane seasons is especially noteworthy given some climate projections showing that future Atlantic seasons may see stronger, wetter and more numerous storms as ocean and air temperatures continue to increase.