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Why isn’t there a 'Q' hurricane name?

Some letters of the alphabet aren’t represented in the annual hurricane names lists

We're about to run out of names and move on to the Greek Alphabet for storm names
We're about to run out of names and move on to the Greek Alphabet for storm names

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – We’ve only got four names left unused (Sally, Teddy, Vicky and Wilfred) on the 2020 hurricane names list, and we are approaching the peak of the Atlantic Hurricane Season.

Once we exhaust those names, we move on to the Greek Alphabet for storm names like Alpha, Beta, Delta, Gamma, Epsilon, etc. The peak of the season is approaching and 75% of all tropical activity typically occurs after Aug. 28.

While there are 26 letters in our traditional alphabet, there are only 21 storm names on the annual hurricane lists, skipping letters like Q, U, X, Y, and Z. The World Meteorological Organization, or WMO, which creates the name lists, does not use those letters because of the lack of names that start with those letters.

There are six rotation lists of names that the WMO uses for hurricane naming. So to utilize letters like Q, U, X, Y and Z, you’d have to be able to come up with at least six names starting with those letters -- three of them being female names, and three of them male names, because the lists alternate male to female names.

Also, if a storm is particularly damaging, deadly or costly, the WMO retires that storm name and then you would need a replacement.

Since 1953, Atlantic tropical storms had been named from lists originated by the National Hurricane Center. They are now maintained and updated through a strict procedure by an international committee of the World Meteorological Organization.

According to their website, “The practice of naming storms (tropical cyclones) began years ago in order to help in the quick identification of storms in warning messages because names are presumed to be far easier to remember than numbers and technical terms.”

At first, storms were named in a more random fashion: Either after a boat the storm damaged or an area of origin. In the 1950s, most storms were given female names.

According to the WMO, meteorologists later decided to identify storms using names from a list arranged alphabetically. Thus, a storm with a name that begins with A, like Anne, would be the first storm to occur in the year. The original name lists featured only women’s names. In 1979, men’s names were introduced and they alternated with the women’s names. Six lists are used in a rotation. Thus, the 2019 list will be used again in 2025.

If a storm is damaging, deadly or very costly, as mentioned, the WMO can vote to retire that name so that no one ever has to relive a storm with the same name.

In fact, 88 names have been retired from the Atlantic basin list since 1953. The 2005 hurricane season has the most retired names – five – for one season. Click here to see all of the storm names that have been retired.

The six rotating lists of names for hurricanes in the Atlantic.
The six rotating lists of names for hurricanes in the Atlantic.

Due to the pandemic, the WMO met virtually in 2020 and did not have time to discuss retiring names from the 2019 hurricane list.

It’s expected when they meet in 2021, they will retire and replace Dorian for that list’s 2025 rotation.


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