We're Expecting a Hurricane Season So Active That We’ll Probably Run Out of Names for the Storms

As the Atlantic moves deeper into "Terra Ignota," the systems we had will become obsolete.

We expect a hurricane season so active that we will probably run out of names to call them
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This won’t be a regular hurricane season. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), there is an 85% chance that North Atlantic activity will be above average. If NOAA is right, we’ll see four to seven major hurricanes by November 30.

Yes, it’s shocking. In fact, so many storms are expected that we’ll probably run out of names for them.

How do experts name a storm? As NOAA explains, in the early 1950s, agency officials realized that using short names would avoid confusion and streamline communication about storms. Until that time, using complex terminology that caused problems for citizens was common.

Since then, the details, scales, and methodologies have changed, but they still do the same thing. Today, meteorologists call a meteorological phenomenon a tropical storm when winds reach 39 miles per hour. When they reach 74.5 mph, they classify it as a hurricane. It’s a simple and effective way to learn about the risks and take action.

A few weeks ago, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) released the names of this year’s tropical storms in the Atlantic Ocean. As usual, they are 21. That means there are probably more storms than names.

It’s not the first time something like this has happened. On September 17, 2020, the National Hurricane Center named Tropical Storm Wilfred, exhausting its list of names. The rest of the season had nine more (named after letters in the Greek alphabet), making it the most active on record.

No one expects 2024 to reach these extremes, but it seems likely that the 21 names chosen won’t be enough.

What’s behind all this? In this case, the key is that El Niño has weakened, and the arrival of La Niña favors the formation of hurricanes. In addition, the Atlantic is too hot (which means it has a lot of energy).

While it’s true that researchers are still debating how the mechanisms behind hurricanes work at this thermal juncture, the most reasonable thing to do right now is to expect more storms to form and become tropical faster.

But that isn't even the problem. The problem is that things are changing too fast.

A new reality. Just as the Saffir-Simpson scale—which we’ve used to measure hurricane intensity since the 1970s—is becoming obsolete, so is the system by which we name hurricanes. If we give them a human name, it’s for a simple reason: It’s more effective than using technical names. What sense does it make that, like what happened in 2020, one-third of tropical storms have names based on the Greek alphabet?

As the North Atlantic moves into uncharted territory, this will happen more and more often. But we’re always a few steps behind events, and this hurricane season will be a good reminder.

Image | NOAA

Related | First Images from NASA’s New Satellite Give Us a Completely Different View of the Oceans

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