Eta roared ashore in northern Nicaragua on November 3, followed by Iota exactly 13 days later and only 15 miles south. Both were Category 4 hurricanes on land, although Iota had reached Category 5 status in offshore areas. The two brought flood disasters to Central America, in addition to extreme winds and storms near the coast.
They are the candidates for textbooks because their names are mixed from the six-year list of names of the Hurricane Center. Just as Katrina was replaced by Katya, Michael with Milton and Sandy with Sarah, there was usually no question that the name of a deadly and destructive Category 4 hurricane would be withdrawn. But in the case of the Greek alphabet, there is no easy replacement.
“The committee … agreed that it was impractical to ̵
Instead of removing a letter from the list, Greek letters can only be withdrawn symbolically. Under the current policy, Eta 2020 and Iota 2020 will be included as withdrawn storms if WMO votes respectively, but the names Eta and Iota will remain in circulation for future storms. Some meteorologists fear that this raises the goal of withdrawing names, while others find it impractical to assign Greek letters to storms.
James Franklin, a former head of the hurricane unit at the Hurricane Center, spearheaded efforts in early 2006 to abandon the practice of using Greek letters altogether, instead offering a backup list of common hurricane names. The National Weather Service initially supported the proposal, but it was dropped by the WMO. The international agency liked the novelty of the unconventional, distinct style that the Greek letters offered to convey the rarity and special character of these storms.
Others have recently expressed concerns, with some proposing viable alternatives to current practice. Nate Johnson, director of meteorological operations for NBC-owned television, said officials should model conventions for naming the Atlantic Ocean after those in the Central Pacific. Instead of launching a new list each year, four alphabetical lists of names are used in sequence; the first storm of a new season begins where it stopped the previous year.
“Save the six.” [Atlantic] lists, but don’t restart at the beginning of each year, “Johnson wrote on Twitter. “And if you have more storms, just move on to the next list. A bad storm? Withdraw and replace the name. No Greek letters, no confusion about retirement, etc. ”
Johnson believes this process is better anyway, as it enhances consistency in attaching recognizable and communicative names to storms.
“If the goal is to use names, we need to use names, not numbers, letters or other things,” Johnson wrote in a Twitter message. “Consistency and familiarity helps keep our focus on the storm and the people along the way at this point, instead of potentially distracting questions or confusion about what is essentially a seasonal metric.”
Johnson said there should be no need for an additional list of storms to sound special or different; he argues that the name of the storm should not change the way people prepare.
“If we have such a ‘special’ season that we have to dive into another list, there will be no shortage of subjects to remind us how ‘special’ and busy the season is,” Johnson wrote. “We will not need a separate list to signal this.”
Marshall Shepard, a former president of the American Meteorological Society, called Johnson’s proposal a “provocative idea that could just work,” while Matt Lanza, a meteorologist from Houston, wrote on Twitter that he supported the “strong” idea.
In addition to eliminating the need to withdraw Greek names or calling for an alternative list, the adoption of this protocol would balance the distribution of hurricanes in the alphabet. In its current form, each season includes a storm named A, but few storms named V or W.
The World Meteorological Organization has said nothing about plans to review naming practices, but the Hurricane Center has hinted that officials will reconsider the issue at their post-hurricane meeting in the spring.
“The WMO Region IV Committee will meet in the spring of 2021,” wrote Dennis Feltgen, a meteorologist and public relations officer at the Hurricane Center. “The agenda will include a discussion on the use of the Greek alphabet, whether / how a name will be withdrawn from it and what will be done in the future.”
There is a chance that Eta and Iota will still retire.