WMO retires 4 names, Greek alphabet from Atlantic tropical cyclone list after active hurricane season

The World Meteorological Organization’s Hurricane Committee has retired four names and the Greek alphabet from the rotating lists of Atlantic tropical cyclone names, the organization announced Wednesday.

The WMO retires 4 names

The WMO will retire Dorian (2019) and Laura, Eta and Iota (2020) from the list because of the "death and destruction they caused."

  • Dorian (2019) - Dorian was a dangerous Category 5 hurricane and became the strongest hurricane to hit the northwestern Bahamas in modern records. Dorian also caused catastrophic damage estimated at $3.4 billion (USD). According to the WMO, more than 75 percent of all homes on the island were damaged. "We saw the devastation that it produced by prolonged 160-plus mph winds for over 24 hours," said FOX 35 Orlando Chief Meteorologist Glenn Richards said. Dexter will replace Dorian on the list of names in 2025.  
  • Laura (2020) - Laura was a powerful Category 4 hurricane that made landfall near Cameron, Louisiana, accompanied by a devastating storm surge of at least 17 feet above ground level. It was responsible for 47 direct deaths in the United States and Hispaniola, and more than $19 billion in damage. The National Hurricane Center said Laura slammed the coast with winds of 150 mph near Cameron, a 400-person community about 30 miles east of the Texas border. Forecasters had warned that the storm surge would be "unsurvivable" and the damage "catastrophic." Leah will replace Laura on the list of names in 2026.  
  • Eta & Iota (2020) - Hurricanes Eta and Iota both made landfall less than two weeks apart during November 2020. The two powerful tropical cyclones caused extensive flooding in Nicaragua, Honduras and other adjacent Central American countries, resulting in at least 272 fatalities and damage losses of more than $9 billion. At least eight people were reported missing after flooding and landslides in the Panama province of Chiriqui, which borders Costa Rica, and the homes of more than 200 residents of the Ngabe Bugle autonomous Indigenous area were flooded out of their homes.  

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.

RELATED: 2019 hurricane season remembered for deadly Dorian

"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," the WMO wrote.

Committee retires Greek alphabet

The committee will additionally retire the Greek alphabet from future use, because "it creates a distraction from the communication of hazard and storm warnings and is potentially confusing."

Hurricane Committee members agreed to create a supplemental list of names A-Z that would be used in lieu of the Greek alphabet when the standard list is exhausted in a given season.

RELATED: 'Glass falling everywhere': Video, images show damage in the aftermath of Hurricane Laura

The WMO said the 2020 season showed that there were many shortcomings with the use of the Greek alphabet:

  • There may be too much focus on the use of Greek alphabet names and not the actual impacts from the storm. According to the WMO, this can greatly detract from the needed impact and safety messaging.  
  • There can be confusion with some Greek alphabet names when they are translated into other languages.  
  • The pronunciation of several of the Greek letters, including Zeta, Eta and Theta, are similar and occur in succession. In 2020, this resulted in storms with very similar sounding names occurring simultaneously. The WMO said this can lead to messaging challenges.

"We cannot prevent this incredible force of nature, but we do have the power to minimize the loss of life and property through cutting-edge forecasts and warnings and strong regional coordination and cooperation," said Evan Thompson, who head’s Jamaica’s national meteorological service.

Changes come after record-breaking hurricane season

The changes, which were agreed upon at a naming convention from March 15-17, come after a record-breaking hurricane season in 2020.

"The season was so active that WMO’s 21-name rotating list was exhausted and the Greek alphabet was used for only the second time," the WMO wrote. The first time was in 2005.

RELATED: 2021 will likely be another active Atlantic hurricane season, new outlook predicts

The season, which ended later than average, brought torrential downpours, flooding, and severe damage to the United States and the Caribbean. In fact, there were two major hurricanes in November for the first time on record.

"The RA-IV Hurricane Committee's work is critical to keep our nations coordinated well before the next storm threatens", said Ken Graham, Hurricane Committee Chair and National Hurricane Center Director. "Hurricanes don't care about international boundaries. We all face similar dangers from tropical systems. Impacts from a single storm can affect multiple countries, so it is critical we have a plan, coordinate our efforts, and share challenges and best practices."

The Hurricane committee serves North America, Central America and the Caribbean.