Hurricane Center May Run Out of Names

Hurricane Center May Run Out of Names (

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.
This gives the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the United Nations agency responsible for choosing hurricane names, 24 more names to work with, from Alpha to Omega, and including such names as Omicron and Upsilon. “The August update to Atlantic hurricane season outlook called for 18 to 21, so I would hope it doesn’t go any higher than that, but it’s a possibility,” Lepore said.

The naming of Hurricanes has a long and interesting history. For many centuries, hurricanes in the West Indies were named after particular Catholic saint’s days on which they occurred. Hurricane “San Felipe” struck Puerto Rico on September 13, 1876. When another hurricane struck Puerto Rico on the same day more than fifty years later, it was christianed “San Felipe the second.”

Later, latitude-longitude positions were used, but this method quickly proved cumbersome.

Military weather forecasters began giving women’s names to significant storms during WWII, then in 1950 the WMO agreed to an alphabetical naming system, using the military’s radio code. The first named Atlantic hurricane was Able in 1950.

Officials soon realized the naming convention would cause problems in the history books if more than one powerful Hurricane Able made landfall. So, in 1953 the organization adopted a rotating series of women’s names, planning to retire names of significant storms.

Feminists urged the WMO to add men’s names, which was done in 1979. The boy-girl-boy-girl naming convention evolved to include French and Spanish names in the Atlantic system, reflecting the languages of the nations affected by Carribean hurricanes.

The twenty-one names reserved each year (the letters q, u, x, y and z are not used) are recycled every six years, minus those retired (such as Hugo and Andrew and, you can bet, Katrina). When a name is retired, the WMO chooses a new name to replace it.

The year with the most documented tropical storms was 1933, when there were 21 in the Atlantic Basin, but this was before hurricanes were routinely named.

Definitely a record that we’d all like to see remain intact.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Herb says:

    I think that this entire hurricane naming system is wrong in the first place. I have long thought that if Hurricanes must be named, they should be named after DEMOCRATS.

    They start off small, then grow stronger as they progress. (Like money in their coffers and the lie gets bigger)

    Then,, they wonder aimlessly around with no apparent destination in their sights.

    They are not concerned about that damage they can do.

    They cause untold amounts of damage when they do find a destination.

    And lastly, they fade off into oblivion after they complete the destruction they wrought.

  2. hln says:

    I like “Donate large sum of money to the Red Cross to add names to the Hurricane Bank.”

    I’m a big hockey fan. You can get a lot of names out of hockey players. Hurricane Miroslav. Hurricane Saku. Etc.


  3. Roger says:

    I think we should offer corporate sponsorship for hurricane names.

    Hurricane Gillette, Hurricane McDonald’s, Hurricane ING…

  4. David says:

    Gee, it’s such a shame that we’ll never have a hurricane name Quentin or one named Queenie or Quiana (cousin to Lakeesha, with the big fat butt).

    And why can’t a hurricane be name Xerxes or Xavier or Xanthus? And why no Ubu or Uma? What’sa madda, can’t they spell or pronounce Yates or Yardley or even Yoko, Yuki, Yvette or Yvonne?

    Yeh, and I’ll sure bet that Zarina, Zena or Zenobia (not to mention Zachariah, Zachary or Zane) would simply blow some small-minded fuses somewhere—probably in the heads of some Mass Media Podpeope called upon to attempt reading such names.

    Poor babies. Run outa names? Use more of the letters in the alphabet.



  5. Audra Marie says:

    I think the next hurricane should be named AUDRA.

  6. yadira says:

    u cant use… yadira. noel. margarita . desery. destiny. mary. alvin. alberto. ivette. i hope they cant use this names. thk u

  7. nicole says:

    i agree with david completly!
    running out of names is next to impossible, and besides, bringing it up isn’t even news worthy.
    use letters more than once dumbasses.

  8. I do not understand why the naming of hurricanes should be limited by humanity’s self imposed limits. Just start picking names alphabetically, perhaps using more rare names: Avis, Brent, Cyrus, etc. Using the Greek alphabet seems a poor second choice, and lacks creativity. There are so many names available, humans should not feel limited.

  9. pamela jones says:

    I was alway curious as to how hurricanes are named and I don’t think I’m alone. Thanks for the insight.