Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Pistol Shots Ring out in the Barroom Night

The tropical storm season ends in two and a half months, and already we're far enough along in the alphabet to have Hurricane Rita? What's going to happen if we get to the end of the list?

The National Hurricane Center comes up with names for tropical storms and hurricanes in the Atlantic from six alphabetical lists of names. They've got many other lists for cyclones in different regions of the Pacific and Indian Oceans. The names used to be only women's names, but in 1979 they began alternating--if Arlene shows up, she'll be followed by Bret, and the following year's first storms will be Alberto and Beryl. These lists rotate, so the storms in 2011 will be roughly the same as those this year. Well it turns out the list doesn't even go all the way to Z. It stops with W and even then skips Q and U. Twenty-one names is all we get.

So what will we call the next storm after Tropical Storm Wilma runs its course? That's when the National Hurricane Center goes Greek--the following storms will be Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and so on.

Although the names are repeated, the names of storms so destructive that future use of the name would be insensitive are stricken and replaced. That's why there's no more Hugo and in 2004 we had Alex instead of Andrew. You can bet that by the time 2011 rolls around, we'll have Kaitlin or Kimberly instead of Katrina.

So what happens if we do go Greek this year and Hurricane Alpha comes ashore and kills a few people? Will we strike the letter from future references as well?

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