World Meteorological Organization stops using Greek alphabet for hurricane names

By Aaron Humes: Having already retired two such names – Eta and Iota – the rest of the Greek alphabet will not be used for hurricane names, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

The organization says the names create a distraction from the communication of hazard and storm warnings and is potentially confusing.

Although the annual name list has only been exhausted twice in history, both instances are in the past 15 years – 2005 and 2020 – and weather trends suggest it is likely it will occur again in the future.

Meeting this week, members of the WMO regional Hurricane Committee agreed to create a supplemental list of names A to Z, excluding any beginning with Q, U, X, Y and Z as these are still not common enough or easily understood in local languages to be slotted into the rotating lists. The supplemental list will be used when the standard list is exhausted.

According to the WMO, the 2020 season presented a number of shortcomings with the use of the Greek alphabet. It distracts from the actual impact of the storm and hurts impact and safety messaging; there is confusion with translations and pronunciation of Greek alphabet names in the languages of the region (Spanish and French for example).

The pronunciation of several of the Greek letters (Zeta, Eta, Theta) are similar and occur in succession.  In 2020, this resulted in storms with very similar sounding names occurring simultaneously, which led to messaging challenges rather than streamlined and clear communication.

Impacts from Eta and Iota were severe enough that those names have formally retired by the Hurricane Committee.  There was no formal plan for retiring Greek names, and the future use of these names would be inappropriate.