There will be no Hurricane Pi, Rho, Sigma or Tau.

The Greek alphabet has been retired as a way of identifying tropical storms, the World Meteorological Organization said Wednesday.

The decision was made after nine Greek letters were pressed into service last year during the record-breaking 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, which exhausted the normal list of 21 storm names prepared by the organization.

Greek letters had been used to name storms only once before, in 2005, another busy hurricane season that produced Hurricane Katrina, among others.

National Weather Service officials said the Greek alphabet got in the way of the main reason for naming storms — to help the public readily identify and track them. Many people were confused by the sounds of the Greek letters, and public attention often focused more on the use of the alphabet itself than on the destruction caused by the storms, officials said.

“Zeta, Eta, Theta — if you think about even me saying those — to have those storms at the same time was tough,” said Kenneth Graham, the director of the National Hurricane Center, pointing to three Greek letters that were used in rapid succession to name three of the last storms of the season. “People were mixing the storms up.”

Graham said that the confusion was particularly evident after Hurricane Zeta hit Louisiana last year. He said he got phone calls from people who believed that Zeta was the last letter in the Greek alphabet and were asking what the next storm would be named. In fact, Zeta is only the sixth letter in the 24-letter Greek alphabet. Omega is the last.

Advertising

The World Meteorological Organization, a United Nations agency, said its Hurricane Committee had developed a supplemental list of names that could be deployed instead of Greek letters when the standard list is exhausted in a given season. The 21-name backup list of Atlantic storms begins with Adria, Braylen and Caridad, and ends with Viviana and Will.

Like the main list of storm names, the supplemental list does not include names that begin with the letters Q, U, X, Y or Z, which officials said are not common enough or easily understood across English, Spanish, French and Portuguese, the languages frequently spoken throughout North America, Central America and the Caribbean.

“I think we kept it simple, which wasn’t easy,” said Graham, the chairperson of the Hurricane Committee. “If you think about the list of names that we could pick, it’s very easy to get a situation where they’re too complicated or tough to say because, remember, we’re talking about English, we’re talking about Spanish, we’re talking about French and, in some cases, also Portuguese.”

The World Meteorological Organization also said Wednesday that Dorian, Laura, Eta and Iota would no longer appear on the rotating lists of Atlantic tropical storm names, which repeat every six years. The names were retired, the organization said, because of the death and destruction the storms had caused.

Dorian, a Category 5 hurricane in 2019, was the strongest hurricane to hit the northwestern Bahamas in modern records, according to the organization. It killed more than 60 people and caused catastrophic damage, mainly in Abaco and eastern Grand Bahama Islands. Dexter will replace Dorian on the list of names in 2025.

Hurricane Laura struck Louisiana in August and was responsible for 47 deaths in the United States and Hispaniola and more than $19 billion in damage, officials said. Leah will now replace Laura on the list of names in 2026.

Hurricanes Eta and Iota made landfall less than two weeks apart in November in the same area of the Nicaraguan coast. At least 272 people were killed in the storms, which also produced more than $9 billion in damage, officials said.

Ninety-three names have now been retired from the Atlantic storm list since 1953, when storms began to be named under the current system.