With the naming of the Eastern Atlantic’s Tropical Storm Wilfred on Friday, the World Meteorological Organization has officially run out of storm names amid the record-breaking pace of the 2020 hurricane season. (Q, U, X, Y, and Z aren’t used.) As a result, meteorologists will be dipping into the Greek alphabet for new names for only the second time since the 1950s, when storms started getting personified instead of numbered. Indeed they’ve already gone to Greek: Subtropical Storm Alpha also formed off the coast of Portugal on Friday, and Tropical Storm Beta is already expected to form in the Gulf of Mexico by Friday night.
The last and only other time the hurricane season had to go Greek was in 2005, when there were a record 27 named storms by the time the official hurricane season ended on November 30, three storms were so destructive that their names had to be retired (Katrina, Rita, and Wilma), and meteorologists didn’t get to a W-named storm (Wilma) until a month later than this year.
The 22 named storms in 2020, by this point on the calendar, are the most in a given year in recorded history (going back nearly 170 years), and double the average number of named storms in a typical year. In addition, on Monday, five named tropical cyclones, including the water-monster Sally, were simultaneously churning in Atlantic time for only the second time in history (the last time that happened was in 1971).
However, as Eye on the Storm noted earlier this week, the good news about the 2020 season has been, so far, the lack of major hurricanes. As of Friday, only two storms have reached the threshold of Category 3: Laura, which clobbered the coasts of Louisiana and eastern Texas at Category 3 strength late last month, and Teddy, which has now reached Category 4 strength over the central Atlantic. Both the record-worst 2005 and second-worst 1933 had both generated five major hurricanes by this point in the season.
Using Greek names for storms is not without its critics, as the Capital Weather Gang pointed out earlier this week, citing the concern over what happens if a Greek-named storm is so bad that the name needs to be retired.
Adding to the weirdness of 2020, on the same day the naming system went Greek, a de facto tropical storm (“Medicane”) hit Greece: