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The Tropics are on Fire

Front Pages 17 Sep, 2020 Follow News

The Tropics are on Fire


The 2020 Atlantic Hurricane season is just one storm name away from becoming only the second time in history that the National Hurricane Centre(NHC) will have had to resort to using the Greek alphabet to name storms.

With tropical storm Vicky swirling in the Atlantic east of the northern Caribbean islands it's the earliest named 20th storm on record.

In May, Arthur became the first named storm of the year before the hurricane season has even officially begun. It reached hurricane status early on July 3d before hitting North Carolina as a 100 mph Category 2 hurricane on July 5th.

Wilfred is the only name left on the list of 21 storm names pre-approved for the season by the World Meteorological Organization before the switch to the Greek system kicks in which goes from Alpha to Omega.

The list used this year will be used again in 2026, with the exception of any names retired.

Weather experts have had to review and update their projections several times this hurricane season as the rapid and early development of storms exceeded their earlier predictions.

September is the peak of the hurricane season which runs from June 1st to November 30th.

The three month period from August through October encompasses the majority of named storms (77 per cent) and hurricanes (87 per cent) in an average season, according to weather experts.

The Weather Channel reports that there have been 17 named storms so far this season, five of which became hurricanes.

An average hurricane season would produce another five named storms, including three hurricanes, one of which would reach at least Category 3 intensity.

If that happens, the list of storm names would be exhausted and the Greek alphabet would take over for any names after Wilfred. That would be just the second time on record the Greek alphabet has been used for Atlantic storm names, joining 2005.


Already, an area of low pressure located a few hundred miles south-southeast of the Cabo Verde Islands is being monitored as weather forecasters say environmental conditions are conducive for development of this system with a tropical depression is likely to form during the next few days.

That system is moving generally westward at 10 to 15 mph.

The National Hurricane centre is projecting a 50 per cent chance of formation within 48 hours rising to 70 per cent chance of development into a full-blown storm over the next five days.

A westward motion was expected to begin on Wednesday followed by a west-southwestward motion by late Thursday.

That’s in addition to the active named storms in the Atlantic, Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico.

Hurricane Sally is battering the southern United States with reports of "historic and catastrophic flooding" from Tallahassee, Florida to Mobile Bay in Alabama.

The storm made landfall early Wednesday morning as a category 2 hurricane with winds of 105 mph.

Residents were warned of a life-threatening storm surge and river flooding inland as far as Georgia.

Alabama, Florida and Mississippi have all declared states of emergency.

Further north in the Atlantic, Bermuda is cleaning up after a brush with Hurricane Paulette with Premier David Burt reporting that “We have weathered the storm.”

“After a day and night of high winds, driving rain and exceptional waves, we are on the other side of Hurricane Paulette, thankfully without any loss of life, serious personal injury and less damage to property than we might have expected,” he stated.

Meanwhile, Bermuda is still within sights of another hurricane which could be headed its way.

Located in the Atlantic east of the central Caribbean is Hurricane Teddy projected to be in the vicinity of Bermuda by Monday.

Teddy is currently packing winds of 100 mph and is moving towards the north-west at 12mph.

Yet another system being watched is what’s called a non-tropical area of low pressure located over the far north-eastern Atlantic Ocean a few hundred miles north-east of the Azores.

The NHC says that system could also acquire some subtropical characteristics while it moves south-eastward and eastward at about 10 mph during the next few days.


The last time NHC had to use the Greek alphabet was in 2005 when it got as far as six letters. Four of those systems reached tropical storm strength (Alpha, Gamma, Delta, and Zeta), while the two other storms reached hurricane strength (Beta and Epsilon).

The NHC does not use the letters Q, U, X, Y, and Z because there aren't enough names to fill those letters.

The Greek alphabet which is made up of 24 letters goes from (a) - alpha to (o) - omega. The current Modern English alphabet has 26 letters from a - z.

(The word alphabet is a compound of the first two letters of the Greek alphabet, alpha and beta).

For several hundred years many hurricanes in the West Indies were named after the particular saint's day on which the hurricane occurred.

The practice of naming hurricanes solely after women came to an end in 1978 when men's and women's names were included in the Eastern North Pacific storm lists.

In 1979, male and female names were included in lists for the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.


Here in Cayman, memories are still fresh from the devastation caused by Hurricane Ivan which hammered the islands for two days on September 11th & 12th in 2004 as a monstrous Category 5 hurricane.

Two persons lost their lives and damage to the housing sector alone was calculated at CI$ 1.4 billion.

The overall economic impact was estimated by the United Nations ECLAC team to be CI$ 3.4 billion, (183 % of GDP). Approximately 83% or 13,535 units of the total housing stock in the Grand Cayman suffered some degree of damage.

The finance (commerce) and tourism sectors were estimated at around CI$ 460 million each.

Marking this anniversary this year, Hon. Premier Alden McLaughlin made this post on social media:

“Many of us remember vividly the impact Hurricane Ivan had on Grand Cayman in 2004 and Hurricane Paloma when it hit Cayman Brac in 2008.”

Noting that “we're in the peak of storm season” , he urged residents that “we all need to be prepared.”

“Have you got your plan in place in the event of a hurricane?” the Premier asked and advised the public to visit the Cayman Islands national Emergency website ‘Cayman Prepared’ for “lots of tips and good information.”

At a recent government press conference on the impact of the ongoing COVID-19 public health pandemic, Mr Mclaughlin was asked by Caymanian Times about hurricane shelters in light of preventive measures against the virus.

“Oh don’t dare mention hurricanes,” the Premier responded in mock alarm.

But he went on to outline the measures being put in place mindful of that possibility.

“We know that we have and we’ve been working very hard to try to increase the shelter facilities to accommodate more people.”

Pointing out that “we’ve lost 4,500 people” who would have otherwise been here (a reference to work-permit holders and others who have returned to their home countries since the outbreak of the pandemic), Mr McLaughlin said in that context “I don’t think we are increasing the risk above what would normally be the case.”

The question revolved additional people coming into the territory with the borders being gradually reopened from October 1st.

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