Hurricane committee retires ‘Dorian;’ does away with Greek alphabet storm names

Ocracoke floods as Hurricane Dorian passes the morning of Sept. 6, 2019. [Photo courtesy Jason Wells]

The World Meteorological Organization’s Hurricane Committee has retired 2019’s Dorian and 2020’s Laura, Eta and Iota from the rotating lists of Atlantic tropical cyclone names because of the death and destruction they caused.

The committee has also decided that the Greek alphabet will not be used in future because it “creates a distraction from the communication of hazard and storm warnings and is potentially confusing,” the WMO said in a news release.

The committee agreed to the changes in its naming convention at its virtual session this week. The meeting reviewed the record-breaking 2020 Atlantic season and fine-tuned preparations for 2021, including the provision of forecasts and warnings, as well as impact assessments, for wind, storm surge and flooding hazards.

Committee members also discussed shifting hurricane season to earlier than June 1, but agreed there will be no changes this year, the news release said.

Last year, tropical weather ramped up before the traditional start of hurricane season with Tropical Storm Arthur forming off Florida on May 16. At one point, Arthur produced sustained winds of 39 mph and a peak gust of 46 mph recorded on the Lindsay C. Warren Bridge over the Alligator River between Dare and Tyrrell counties. The worst of the storm stayed just offshore.

That was the start of the busiest Atlantic hurricane season on record, with 30 named storms and 12 landfalling storms in the continental United States. The season was so active that the 21-name rotation for the season was exhausted and the Greek alphabet was used for only the second time. The first was in 2005.

National Hurricane Center satellite image storms in the Atlantic basin, September 2020.

Although the naming convention is only a small part of the committee’s life-saving work, it attracts the most public attention. Atlantic tropical cyclone name lists repeat every six years unless a storm is so deadly or costly that its name is retired from future lists.

In total,93 names have now been retired from the Atlantic basin list since 1953, when storms began to be named under the current system.

Dorian, a Category 5 hurricane, was the strongest hurricane to ever hit the northwestern Bahamas, causing catastrophic damage to the Abaco and the eastern Grand Bahama Islands. It later made landfall at Cape Hatteras on Sept. 6, 2019, causing widespread flooding and damage to Ocracoke and Hatteras islands. Dexter will replace Dorian on the list of names in 2025.

Also retired from the naming convention is Hurricane Laura, which made landfall in Louisiana, causing devastating storm surge and claiming 47 lives. Leah will replace Laura on the list of names in 2026.

Hurricanes Eta and Iota are also being retired after both made landfall less than two weeks apart during November off  the Nicaraguan coast. The storms resulted in 272 fatalities and damage losses of more than $9 billion.

As for the Greek alphabet, the hurricane committee said the 2020 season showed there were a number of shortcomings using that naming convention.

“There can be too much focus on the use of Greek alphabet names and not the actual impacts from the storm. This can greatly detract from the needed impact and safety messaging,” the news release said. “There is confusion with some Greek alphabet names when they are translated into other languages used within the region.”

The committee has instituted a supplemental list of Atlantic tropical cyclone names in lieu of using the Greek Alphabet should all 21 names for the season be used. You can find those names here.

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