What if we run out of names?
With Tropical Storm Ophelia menacing the Carolina coast, we're struck by how many of the season's 21 storm names we've run through this year. Ophelia is the 15th named storm of the season. There are just six more names on the list: Phillippe, Rita, Stan, Tammy, Vince and Wilma. After that, the National Hurricane Center will have to turn to the Greek alphabet: Tropical Storms Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and so on. It's never happened before. But then again, we're just halfway through the season, and 71 percent of the way through the name list.
We've reached the letter "O" in the Atlantic hurricane season four other times during the current more-active cycle of tropical Atlantic storms, which began in 1995. That first year, 1995, was a whopper, with 19 named storms. The last one named that year was Tanya. (Forecasters this year are predicting 18 to 21 named storms. Those numbers were posted in August after the experts revised their May forecast for 12 to 15 named storms in light of the season's extraordinarily busy start.)
The "O" storms of the current cycle have always arrived much later than this. (Click here for the archives.) Ophelia earned her name on Sept. 7.
The "O" storm in 1995 was Opal, which formed on Sept. 27 and lasted until Oct. 5. The 2001, 2003 and 2004 seasons also reached "O" or beyond. The last storm in 2001 was Olga (Nov. 24 - Dec. 4). (The Atlantic hurricane season ends Nov. 30, but storms don't always play by the rules.)
In 2003 we got all the way to Peter. The "O" storm that year was Odette, a real late-bloomer (Dec. 4-7). And last year the final named storm was Otto, which formed Nov. 29 and faded away Dec. 3.
On the other hand, hurricane specialists say they're also running out of storm systems in the Atlantic. It could be the end of the season. Or, it could be a lull.