With the forming of the 20th tropical storm in the Atlantic Basin, this season becomes the second busiest on record. If one more storm forms, as is likely, 2005 will tie for the record and the last name on the list will be used.
Tropical storm Vince became a hurricane Sunday in the far eastern Atlantic. The only name left on this year's list is Wilma, then the National Hurricane Center will switch for the first time to Greek names such Alpha, Beta, and Gamma.
The busiest season on record was 1933 with 21 named storms. There were 20 storms in 1887 and 1995. Reliable hurricane records go back to 1851.
"There is the potential for additional tropical storms and hurricanes to form this season, but it's too early to know exactly where they will develop or if they will affect land," said Scott Kiser, Tropical Cyclone Program Manager for the National Weather Service.
Long-range forecaster William Gray of Colorado State University said earlier this month that he expects October to be busy.
Hurricane names are re-used every six years, except for those of major storms that have been retired. The letters Q, U, X, Y and Z are not used.
Names are given to tropical cyclones when they reach tropical storm status, with top sustained winds of at least 39 mph. The storms are called hurricanes when those sustained winds reach 74 mph.
This season started out as the busiest ever, with 4 named storms by July 5. The season begins June 1, and the busiest months are typically August and September.
Of the 20 named storms that have formed this year, 11 have become hurricanes, including five major hurricanes. The average year has 10 named storms, six hurricanes and two major hurricanes. But meteorologists say we are in the middle of the busy part of a natural cycle that is decades long, so several years of above-average activity are expected.
Still controversial is what effect global warming has on hurricane formation. Recent studies suggest the warmer climate is making hurricanes stronger and fueling an increase in the number of major hurricanes.
Hurricane Vince poses no immediate threat to the United States. In fact, by Monday morning it had degenerated into a tropical storm and was expected to become further disorganized.
Hurricane season runs through Nov. 30.