The Greek alphabet will no longer be used to name hurricanes after the normal list of names is exhausted, according to a decision rendered by the World Meteorological Association on Thursday.
But this is no slam against the ancient language. On the contrary — the use of names such as Gamma, Eta, Theta and Iota became so newsworthy in and of itself last year that it actually distracted from the storm warnings themselves , according to the organization.
In addition, the similarity in the sounds between the letters Ita, Theta, and Zeta caused a bit of confusion when, because last year’s hurricane season was so extraordinarily active, they were all in use at the very same time for three different Atlantic storms.
Similarity of Greek hurricane names led to confusion
There were also some language issues regarding how the names were translated into other languages used in the Caribbean.
The instant recognition of storm names is important, the meteorological body said, when it comes to storm preparation and readiness, and there must be no misunderstanding between any of them for safety purposes.
WMO officials said that so much attention was given to the novelty of the new hurricane names, “and not the actual impact from the storms,” that it came a serious problem.
“This can greatly detract from the needed impact and safety messaging,” the WMO stated.
Indeed, the naming of storms began as a way to differentiate between the multiple forms that spin up out of the southern Atlantic every year.
The move comes as meteorologists look back on the record-breaking hurricane season of 2020, when, in addition to the pandemic, the Americas had to deal with a total of a whopping thirty named storms (which had top winds of 39 mph or greater), of which thirteen became hurricanes, with top winds of 74 mph (119 km/h) or greater.
There were six “major” hurricanes, with top winds of 111 mph (177 km/h) or greater, including Eta, Iota and Laura.
As befits this most punishing of all hurricane seasons, as late as December 1, 2020, a low-pressure system with the potential to become Subtropical Storm Kappa was detected off the coast of Portugal.
The record-breaking phenomena had stretched into the winter, with two catastrophic hurricanes slamming into Central America in November, including Hurricane Iota, the latest category 5 storm to ever be recorded in the Atlantic.
Eta, Iota, Zeta and Delta would have been retired due to damage they inflicted
No matter what ruling the world meteorological body had taken, four Greek-named storms would have had their names retired anyway because of the extreme amount of damage they brought with them.
Storms which wreak particular havoc always have their names retired at the end of that year. The names Iota, Eta, Zeta, Delta would never have been used again for hurricanes because of the incredible amounts of damage they caused in 2020.
The most catastrophic Atlantic storm of 2020 was the Greek-named Hurricane Eta, which hit northern Nicaragua on the extraordinarily late date of November 3 as a category 4 storm, with 140 mph winds.
Eta most deadly storm of 2020 by far
Inching over the landscape at an agonizing pace, Eta lingered for three entire days over Central America, dumping catastrophic amounts of rainfall — over 20 inches in some areas.
Flooding caused by Eta killed at least 215 people and left 49 missing, mostly in Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and Panama, according insurance broker Aon.
2020 was only the second time in history, after 2005, that Greek names had had to be used after the normal list of names had been exhausted.
Instead of the Greek names, the WMO stated, a new list of alternative names will be made official if the first list is exhausted.