It’s peak hurricane season and we’re about to run out of names. What happens then?

Hayley Fowler

The list of names for storms is close to the end — and we just hit peak hurricane season.

Tropical Storm Vicky formed Monday off the coast of Africa, making it the fifth named storm currently sitting in the Atlantic basin behind Hurricanes Sally and Paulette, Tropical Storm Teddy and Tropical Depression Rene. Two more disturbances were also churning in the same waters as of 2 p.m. Monday.

That leaves Wilfred as the sole remaining name on the National Hurricane Center’s list of 2020 storms. It’s rare to go through all 21 names in a single season — but not unprecedented.

“In the event that more than twenty-one named tropical cyclones occur in the Atlantic basin in a season, additional storms will take names from the Greek alphabet,” the hurricane center says.

There’s 24 names in the Greek alphabet, making it unlikely forecasters will need to resort to a plan c.

The last busy season

Storms have been named in alphabetical order since the early 1950s, with the exception of Q, U, X, Y and Z.

The World Meteorological Organization, a global committee in charge of naming storms, doesn’t “use those letters because of the lack of names that start with” them, News 4 reported.

The list repeats itself every six years, meaning the same names used in 2020 will be recycled in 2026. Dozens of names belonging to the most catastrophic hurricanes, however, have been removed from the rotation — meaning there will never be another Katrina or Florence.

Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was part of a particularly destructive hurricane season. Five storm names were retired that year, including Dennis, Rita, Stan and Wilma.

It was also the last time the Atlantic ran out of named storms.

“The 2005 Atlantic hurricane season was the most active on record,” according to the World Meteorological Organization. “Twenty-seven named tropical storms formed, breaking the old record of 21 set back in 1933.”

Fourteen of those storms were hurricanes, seven of which were considered “major” with three Category 5 storms, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported.

After Hurricane Wilma hit Mexico in mid-October 2005, six more storms formed in the Atlantic — Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Epsilon and Zeta, according to NOAA.

Hurricane predictions for 2020

The official hurricane season in the Atlantic Basin — which includes the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico — began June 1 and continues until Nov. 30.

Peak season lasts from mid-August to late October, and the statistical peak is Sept. 10.

About 78% of tropical storms, 87% of Category 1 and Category 2 hurricanes and 96% of major hurricanes occur during that time frame, according to NOAA.

Forecasters predicted early on that the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season would be busy with between three and 19 named storms, McClatchy News previously reported. Arthur was the first named storm, which struck the coast of North Carolina before the official season even began.

NOAA upped that prediction to 25 named storms in early August, NPR reported.

“We’ve never forecast up to 25 storms,” Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, said in a briefing, according to NPR. “So this is the first time.”