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Why you won’t hear certain names during Atlantic hurricane season

Each year, as a new tropical cyclone strengthens to a tropical storm in the Atlantic basin, the World Meteorological Organization assigns it one of 21 names.

On each of the six lists of names that are rotated every sixth Atlantic hurricane season, you’ll likely never see a Quincy, Ursula or Zachary.

“The letters Q, U, X, Y and Z are just not common letters that names begin with,” said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Dan Pydynowski.

The lack of names beginning with those letters explains why they don’t appear on the list of Atlantic tropical cyclones.

Hurricane from space

(Photo/ Images)

In other hurricane basins, however, there’s more likelihood of experiencing a storm named Ulana, Xavier or Walaka.

“The East Pacific uses X, Y and Z, while the Atlantic does not,” Pydynowski said.

“The East Pacific averages more named storms per year; thus, more names are needed in an average year and there is a better chance [of reaching] the end of the list,” he said.

Like the Atlantic basin, the Eastern North Pacific basin’s 24 tropical cyclone names are also rotated on a six-year cycle.

However, despite the shortage of names for X, Y and Z in the Atlantic, two names per letter are alternated every other year in the Eastern North Pacific: Xina, Xavier, York, Yolanda, Zelda and Zeke.

Similar to the Atlantic basin’s storms, Q and U aren’t used to name Eastern North Pacific hurricanes.

Tropical cyclones in the Central North Pacific omit even more letters, with four lists made up of only 12 names.

How names are rotated

With an active hurricane season comes the likelihood of more named storms. In the Atlantic basin, when the 21 storm names are exhausted, the naming system switches to the Greek alphabet.

So far, the Greek alphabet has only ever been used during the memorable 2005 hurricane season, which featured powerful storms like Katrina, Rita and Wilma.

"The first six letters of the Greek alphabet were used," said National Hurricane Center Communications Officer Dennis Feltgen.

That season produced 27 tropical storms, and the 22nd through 27th storm were named Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Epsilon and Zeta.

Different procedures are used in different basins, including the Central and Western North Pacific.

“[In the Atlantic Basin], we’re used to having a set list, getting to a certain letter by the end of the season and then starting at the ‘A Storm’ at the top of the list next year,” said Pydynowski.

“In the Central and Western North Pacific, there are lists, but the storm names are used one after another and you just pick up where you left off the previous year,” he said.

In the Central North Pacific, when the bottom of one list of names is reached, it switches to using the first name of the following list, according to the World Meteorological Organization.