Nate and Ophelia

Hurricane Maria is back to a tropical storm (and back to a hurricane) and headed into the central North Atlantic. But rather suddenly, it has lots of company:

Tropical Storm Hurricane Nate, which merited its first public advisory Monday afternoon, may turn into a hurricane in the next couple of days (and pass close to Bermuda).

Tropical Storm Ophelia, which developed quite quickly off the Florida coast (first public advisory Tuesday morning); Ophelia may wander up the Atlantic coast, or it may cross Florida into the Gulf of Mexico — the weather models disagree on where it will go.

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Maria, the Hurricane

We have a new hurricane, Maria, headed for the mid-Atlantic (Tropical Storm Lee has already come and gone).

The next name up for grabs is Nate (followed by Ophelia, Philippe, Rita, Stan, Tammy, Vince, and Wilma). No Q, U, Y, X, or Z — so no hurricane Queequeg. Or Xavier. Or Yves or Zeus, either. The only explanation I can find is that the naming authority, the World Meteorological Organization, feels there’s not a sufficient stock of names for those letters to designate all the storms that need to be accounted for. (Side note: As with Camille and Andrew and other monster storms, Katrina will be withdrawn from the list of potential names.)

How far through the list will we get? On August 2, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration revised its hurricane season outlook. In May, the agency predicted 12 to 15 tropical storms for the season, with seven to nine becoming hurricanes, and three to five becoming major hurricanes. The August update increased the estimate to 18 to 21 tropical storms, nine to 11 hurricanes, and five to seven major hurricanes.

What happens if we get through storm 21 (Wilma) and another one appears? An investigation is under way.

(If you must know more, see the WMO’s seven-page fact sheet — a PDF file — on tropical cyclone names.)

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