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Atlantic storm names may go Greek: List has only four names left for the year
(CNN) -- Forecasters could run out of names for tropical storms and hurricanes before the season ends November 30.
The Atlantic basin has seen 17 named storms since season began June 1, and only four are left on the list.
What's a meteorologist to do if the names run out? Go Greek.
Should the Atlantic see more than 21 named storms "additional storms will take names from the Greek alphabet: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, and so on," according to the National Hurricane Center Web site.
"We only have four names left on the list this year: Stan, Tammy, Vince and Wilma. If we have a fifth storm it would be named Alpha," said Daniel Brown, a meteorologist at the center, which is based in Miami, Florida.
At the beginning of each Atlantic storm season, the center publishes a list of 21 storm names. They alternate male and female names in alphabetical order.
The letters Q, U, X, Y and Z are skipped because not enough names start with those letters, Brown said.
Hurricane Alpha would be a first for the hurricane center.
"There was one year in 1933 we actually had 21 storms. That's been the most in the Atlantic. However, it was before we started naming storms" Brown said.
The National Weather Service started naming storms in 1953 as way to reduce confusion over the latitude-longitude naming method.
In 1979 Atlantic male names were included, putting to an end the practice of naming hurricanes only after women.
What makes a good storm name? According to the National Weather Service, short, distinctive given names work best.
The World Meteorological Organization, a United Nations agency based in Geneva, Switzerland, now maintains lists of names for storm-prone regions around the globe.
For the North Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico region, the list covers six years and rotates beginning every seventh year.
Names are changed if the storm causes extreme damage and loss of life. Brown said Hurricane Katrina will "absolutely" be retired by the organization.
Andrew, the name of the 1992 hurricane that according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration killed 23 people in south Florida and three in the Bahamas and caused $26.5 billion in damage, likewise has been retired.