Storm Imogen had quite an impact on my local area a few weeks ago, and as I await the next storm – which will be named ‘Jake’ – it gave me cause to reflect on the new fashion of giving names to UK storms.
A few months ago, the Met Office invited members of the public to submit names via social media for storms, and a definitive list was drawn up:
These names would be used for storms that have the potential to cause ‘medium’ or ‘high’ wind impacts on the UK.
The idea behind the project was to raise public awareness of severe weather systems before they reach the UK, and therefore ensure greater safety of the public. By attaching a name to a weather event, it has been found to help people track its progress, and also prepare people for and avoid dangers that might come along with it.
Weather forecasters have used names for particular storms in the past, but the choice of names was random, with the same storm sometimes being referred to by several different names. They have also latched onto names of ex-hurricanes that arrive on our shores from across the Atlantic. These names come from six lists drawn up by the World Meteorological Organisation and used in rotation.
The UK list follows the same structure of the American system, running through the alphabet and alternating between male and female names. There are no named storms beginning with the uncommon letters Q, U, X, Y or Z. When an American storm is particularly serious, like Hurricane Katrina in 2005, it’s name is withdrawn from the list never to be used again. I presume that particularly damaging storms will get similar treatment if they occur in the UK.
If a storm hits the UK which has already developed over the Atlantic and has already been named, then the original name will continue to be used, not a new one from the Met Office list.
Although we have already got to I in the storm alphabet, it is unlikely we will ever get through 21 storm names in a season. For instance, in the very bad winter of 2013/14, only 14 storms would have received names. Should an unusual season occur needing more names, the list will return to letter A to a different name. If tropical storms go beyond 21 names, the Greek alphabet is then used – starting with storm alpha.
One interesting point about storm names is the research that has shown how hurricanes with female names are more likely to hurt more people than those with male names. Scientists believe that this is because the public finds female names less threatening.
But do we really need to anthropomorphise our winter storms? Naming of storms has caused some controversy in meteorological circles, and many people believe that pumping the public up to siege mentality in order to prepare for Storm Humperdink or the like, is not necessary and possibly counter-productive.
It is planned to change the list of UK storm names next year, with the public being asked again for their suggestions. Maybe this would make an interesting homework for your students?