November 30, 2005

More back-up names sought for busy hurricane years

By Jane Sutton

MIAMI (Reuters) - Meteorologists used up so many Atlantic
storm names during the 2005 hurricane season that they may have
to create a new back-up list in case supplies are exhausted in
future busy years, U.S. forecasters said.

Meteorologists said the busy 2005 season was part of a
natural cycle of heightened Atlantic hurricane activity that
could last for decades.

Hurricane names are chosen by the United Nation's World
Meteorological Organization. Representatives of the 26 nations
in the group's Region IV, which covers the Atlantic-Caribbean
hurricane belt, will decide which names to retire and what to
do about a naming crunch when they meet in Puerto Rico in
March, forecasters at the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

The WMO group compiles six alphabetical lists of 21 storm
names each, skipping Q,U,X,Y and Z because not enough names
start with those letters. The lists rotate every six years, so
the 2005 list will be used again in 2011.

Names are retired and replaced when a storm causes large
loss of life or property. "Katrina" will certainly be stricken
from the list after 2005, and probably several others, said
Frank Lepore, spokesman for the hurricane center.

"The country that is most affected by the storm will
request the change," Lepore said.

For the first time since Atlantic hurricanes were given
names in 1953, all 21 names were used up this year, which has
seen a record 26 tropical storms so far. Forecasters named the
last five - Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and Epsilon -- from the
Greek alphabet which has long been the designated backup list
but had never before been used.

"The issue is, what happens if you have to retire a Greek
alphabet letter?" Lepore said.

Alpha might be a candidate for retirement because Tropical
Storm Alpha caused flooding that killed 33 people in Haiti and
nine in the Dominican Republic in late October.

The busy seasons expected over the next two decades raise
the prospect of dipping into an incomplete Greek alphabet the
next time all 21 official storm names are used up.

"I think the safest thing is to come up with another list
and we'll discuss that," said hurricane center director Max

The proposed seventh list would follow the alphabetical
pattern as the six now in use but instead of rotating, it would
be used as a backup any time an annual list is exhausted.

Hurricanes are given names because it makes it easier to
discuss them, especially when relaying information between
widely scattered weather stations and ships. Until 1979, only
female names were used but now the lists alternate between
men's and women's names.

Choosing the names is a bit of an art, the forecasters
said. They must be short and easy to pronounce in the all
languages spoken in the region -- French, Spanish, Dutch,
English and Haitian Creole for the Atlantic-Caribbean basin.

"They have to be something that if they're mispronounced,
they don't sound very close to something vulgar," Lepore said.

(To access the list of official storm names for the next
five years, visit the National Hurricane Center Web site at