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Thursday, November 26, 2020

We’re running out of 2020 tropical storm names. Here’s what happens next

NASA and NOAA’s Suomi NPP satellite captured this view of Tropical Storm Rene on Sept. 8.

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NASA Worldview, Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS)

Not long after Tropical Storm Omar set a record for the Atlantic hurricane season, we’re already on to Tropical Storm Rene. With only a handful of available names left for the 2020 season, we may have to call on our storm-naming backup plan: the Greek alphabet.

The World Meteorological Organization maintains a rotating list of storm names and assigns 21 names to each Atlantic hurricane season. The season officially runs from June 1 through Nov. 30. So far, we’ve used up 17 names, with only Sally, Teddy, Vicky and Wilfred left.

It’s likely those names will be exhausted, especially at the rate new tropical storms are popping up this year. NOAA had earlier predicted an above normal hurricane season, and that forecast has come true. 

“In the event that more than 21 named tropical cyclones occur in the Atlantic basin in a season, additional storms will take names from the Greek alphabet,” NOAA said in an explainer on the names.

The very first Tropical Storm Alpha formed in October 2005 during an epic and damaging Atlantic hurricane season. That season resulted in 27 named storms, including six Greek letters.  

Some storms might sound familiar. That’s because Atlantic storm names are recycled every six years. “The only time there is a change in the list is if a storm is so deadly or costly that the future use of its name on a different storm would be inappropriate for reasons of sensitivity,” said NOAA.  

Tropical Storm Rene earned its name on Sept. 7 after strengthening from a less intense tropical depression. Rene may yet turn into a full hurricane, according to a NASA release on Tuesday. 

This year’s Atlantic season is one more sign of a global uptick in storm, flooding and fire activity in recent years. We may soon be tracking Tropical Storm Alpha, the 2020 version. 

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