The Atlantic Ocean needs to calm down

Published 6:00 pm Friday, September 25, 2020

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How well do you know the Greek alphabet? Unless you were in a fraternity or sorority in college, probably not that well. I certainly can only name a handful of Greek letters, but definitely not in the correct order. I’ve always personally been fond of “upsilon” just because it sounds like “oops” when you say it!

From the way things are going this year, however, we probably ought to familiarize ourselves with the Greek alphabet a little better.

If you haven’t heard the news yet, this Atlantic hurricane season has been so active so far that we’ve run out of names already. The list is only 21 names long, and yet we’ve already burned through all of them with several more weeks left in the typical hurricane season. (“Typical!” I say, as if this year has been anything but “typical!”)

According to the National Hurricane Center (NHC), they started naming hurricanes in order to avoid confusion when there was more than one storm approaching. (As we can see from this year alone, that’s a very helpful idea.) There was a brief plan to name storms by the phonetic alphabet, but that didn’t work so well, so the United States switched to using female names in 1953. They started including male names too in 1979. Now there are six name lists that get recycled year after year, and when a name is “retired” after a particularly devastating storm, a new one is added in its place. (And no, in case you were wondering, you can’t really get a hurricane named after you. The World Meteorological Organization is in charge of making the list and their website says hurricanes aren’t named after any particular person.)

With this year’s list of names done now, the NHC procedure is to shift to using the Greek alphabet. That gives us an extra 24 names to work with (and learn how to pronounce). As of the day I’m writing this column, we’re already at the second letter: beta.

The last time we had to resort to Greek names for hurricanes was 2005. They got up to six Greek letters before the season ended and the Atlantic Ocean calmed down for a bit.

We probably shouldn’t be too surprised about this turn of events for 2020. NHC scientists did predict a very active hurricane season, which spans from June 1 to November 30 each year. If you may recall, we already had two storms (Arthur and Bertha) pop up this year before June even started.

I actually wrote a column as Tropical Storm Bertha rolled through reminding everyone to be prepared for the season, especially since we’re dealing with a pandemic on top of everything else. In that column, I even wrote “I’ve seen the list of hurricane names for 2020 and I’m hoping at least we don’t manage to get to the end of the list.”

So much for that idea!

In the few months since that column I wrote in May, we’ve had to deal with effects from several of those storms which mostly brought a lot of rain and some wind. We’ve also had to deal with a direct hit from Hurricane Isaias, which tragically brought devastation to parts of Bertie County and some in Hertford County.

Even though we usually have warnings ahead of time, the weather is truly unpredictable. I still believe the best way to deal with the uncertainties of a hurricane is to prepare as much as possible ahead of time. That means having a plan of action, knowing where you’d have to evacuate (if necessary), and making sure you have a supply kit.

A basic supply kit should include not only essentials like food and water, but also useful items such as a battery-powered radio, a flashlight with extra batteries, a first aid kit, a can opener, local maps, a change of clothes, personal hygiene items, copies of important documents in a waterproof container, and more. You should definitely include a mask now too considering the current circumstances.

It’d be nice if the Atlantic Ocean calmed down a bit when it comes to making hurricanes, but nothing is guaranteed in this crazy year, and that includes the weather. Odds are slim that we’ll run of out Greek letters to use, but I won’t count anything out yet in 2020.

If we do run out of Greek letters, maybe we should just start over with “A” for “Apocalypse.”

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at or 252-332-7206.