Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Hurricane What's Its Name - Updated

As of yesterday, October 22, Tropical Depression 25 grew into Tropical Storm Alpha. An historic event. And my daughter wins the bet as outlined below.

*** end update ******

*** original post *****

My daughter and I made a little wager a couple of months ago concerning the total number of named storms that would occur this season. She took the position that we would, in fact, have a storm named Alpha. I took what I thought was a more likely position, that we would not get past Wilma. History was and is on my side. It is beginning to appear that the weather patterns, weather cycles, global warming, global cooling, or cyclonic gremlins (take your picks!) may be on her side.

(As an aside here, if you are interested in following tropical cyclonic activity, and want to know the nitty-gritty details of hurricanes, visit and bookmark/blogroll the Stormtrack Blog. Information is available from the projected tracks of storms, prokected life and history of storms, and explanations for such esoteric phenomena as 'eyewall replacement' and 'bombing out'. Good stuff!)

We have been following events closely, mostly the development stages, trying to keep track of just how our prospects for a win are looking. During the course of this hurricane season, many interesting discussions have arisen. One of those discussions involved the naming conventions applied to tropical storms. And the naming conventions of hurricanes edges me a little closer to the point of this post... (source: LiveScience)

Before the 2005 hurricane season is done, you might read about Hurricane Alpha.

Each year, 21 common names are reserved for Atlantic Basin hurricanes, with the list arranged alphabetically and skipping certain letters. Rita is the 17th named storm in the Atlantic Basin this year. There are only four left.

So what will officials do after tropical storm Wilma develops, assuming it does?

"We go to the Greek alphabet," said Frank Lepore, spokesman for the National Hurricane Center.

The 21 alphabetic names referenced above exclude names starting with the letters q, u, x, y and z, due to the dearth of names beginning with those letters. Keep this fact in mind, because I'll come back to it in a bit.

Well, as you all know, Wilma has developed, now, into a full scale category 5 hurricane. Next up, should it occur, will be Tropical Storm/Hurricane Alpha, then Beta, et cetera.

The names are kept on six-year rotating lists. Therefore, the names keep repeating. With certain exceptions. (For a complete six year listing of all storm names, worldwide, visit the National Hurricane Center.) Those names retired are of hurricanes that are exceptionally deadly or costly (from NHC):
[...] The only time that there is a change is if a storm is so deadly or costly that the future use of its name on a different storm would be inappropriate for obvious reasons of sensitivity. [...]
I also read somewhere (can't find it, ATM) that another reason for retiring certain names is that it would be less confusing, historically.

Anyway, here's the point of this post... a question. Assuming that we experience 21 named storms during a season, and the 22nd comes along (Alpha), and it turns out to be both deadly and costly... Will the name Alpha be retired? Due to the nature of most alphabets, there is only one letter available to fill that first slot. What would it be replaced with? Will the entire Greek alphabet be retired to avoid a hodgepodge of alphabetic characters? Somehow, I don't think that THIS would be an option.

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?

“It will go to the Swahili alphabet or something else,” joked Jim Lushine, severe weather expert at the National Weather Service in Miami.

Although I don't think the Swahili alphabet is appropriate, at least I'm not the only one asking What if... ? The same article goes on to say:

Actually, 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, Switzerland, which maintains the database.

“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.”

Hopefully, we will not have to worry about this too much. From the same article (emphasis mine):
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.”

Yep, Hurricane Fatigue. I would imagine that it wouldn't take too many hurricanes to induce that!

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