Hurricane, tropical storm names for year almost used up
By John Pain
The Associated Press
MIAMI - Hurricane Alpha? Tropical Storm Epsilon? Before this year is out, TV forecasters and coastal residents may have to break out their Greek dictionaries if the Atlantic hurricane season keeps up its frantic pace.
There are only four names left for tropical storms and hurricanes this year: Stan, Tammy, Vince and Wilma. After that, names switch to the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and so on through Omega, if needed.
That has never happened before in about 60 years of regularly named Atlantic storms.
''If we get up into that league, we'll have issues larger than naming these storms,'' said Frank Lepore, spokesman for the National Hurricane Center in Miami. ''The new phrase will be hurricane fatigue. Let's coin that right now.''
So far this season, there have been 17 named storms. Forecasters expect a total of 18 to 21 when the six-month season ends Nov. 30. But with conditions in the atmosphere and Atlantic ripe for storm development, there could be more.
Only once, since record-keeping began in 1851, have there been 21 tropical storms and hurricanes in the Atlantic. That was in 1933 when forecasters didn't regularly name storms.
What's more, a storm name is retired if it causes widespread damage and deaths. So if there is a deadly Hurricane Alpha, what is it replaced with when it's retired?
''We don't know. It will go to the Swahili alphabet or something else,'' joked Jim Lushine, severe weather expert at the National Weather Service in Miami.
When old names are retired, new names have to be drafted in to a database maintained specifically for Atlantic Ocean storms, said Mark Oliver, spokesman for the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva.
''There's certain specifications which they have to meet,'' Oliver said. ''They have to be fairly easily remembered; they've got to be in alphabetical order.''