The NOAA generates alphabetical names for hurricanes for each season. They start with A names and go through W, skipping Q and U, as those letters are much harder to generate names for. The names are recycled every six years, though particularly major storm names are retired and replaced with newly-generated names. This occurred with Katrina, for instance, in 2005.
Should the NOAA run out of the generated alphabetical names, they revert to using Greek letters and appending the year to the storm. In 2005, the season had storms Alpha and Beta, which are known as Alpha 2005 and Beta 2005.
Now, 2020 has become the second year in which this has occurred: Subtropical Storm Alpha impacted Portugal and Tropical Storm Beta made landfall in Texas.
Unprecedented Storm Frequency
This year has seen a truly unprecedented number of tropical storms. Beta became the earliest forming twenty-third named storm ever, beating 2005’s twenty-second named storm, Alpha, by over a month.
Even at the time of writing, a system hanging over the Florida Keys threatens to become a full tropical depression, which would make it easily the quickest a twenty-fourth named storm has occurred. It would be named Gamma, per the NOAA naming conventions.
Even as Beta rumbles over the US, Tropical Storm Teddy is approaching the Canadian Maritimes and Hurricane Paula is reforming in the Eastern Atlantic. After Alpha 2020 became the first subtropical storm to ever impact Portugal, Europe could face another tropical storm should Paula reach the continent at its current strength.
Alpha 2020 was only the third tropical storm to ever impact Europe, after an 1842 hurricane that impacted Spain and Hurricane Vince in 2005.
Why Is This Happening?
The extreme storm frequency of this year has been rather on-brand for 2020. This year has seen a raging pandemic across the globe, burning wildfires on the West Coast and unprecedented civil unrest in the United States.
This is all occurring against the backdrop of a controversial and heated presidential election. For many, this year has felt somewhat apocalyptic. However, there are scientific explanations for what is happening.
The climate is warming up. Scientists are in agreement that global climate change is occurring. However, world governments, including the US, have dragged their feet on acting to curb this climate change. This changing climate has made it much easier for storms to form over warm ocean water, as favorable high-level winds spin storms into the powerful engines of destruction we call hurricanes.