Stormy weather

Featured image: Freshwater Bay, Isle of Wight, in stormy weather. (Image credit: Cat Palmer)

Having been woken last night, for the second night in a row, by the crash of an internal door being blown shut by the wind (one of the small displeasures of living in a beautiful but drafty old house), weather is currently somewhat on my mind. (Of course it is. I’m British.)

When does a storm – weather that breaks branches and slams doors – become a Storm, with its own name and news headlines? And why do we name storms anyway?

The ‘why’

The practice of formally naming storms began in the US in the early 1950s, to reduce confusion caused when more than one storm was happening at the same time (which, given the size of the USA, is not uncommon).* The UK took a while to adopt this useful innovation – more than 60 years, in fact, with the first named UK storm being Storm Abigail in November 2015.

In the US, storms are named according to a fixed list of names controlled by the World Meteorological Organization, with names reused in a six-year cycle unless a particular named storm is so destructive that reusing the name is felt to be disrespectful or otherwise inappropriate. (There will, for example, never be another Hurricane Katrina after the one of 2005 that killed over 1800 people and caused billions of dollars’ worth of damage across the USA and beyond.)

In the UK, it was decided when the storm naming programme began in 2015 that storm names should be crowd-sourced from the UK and Ireland. The two meteorological organisations (the UK’s Met Office and Ireland’s Met Éireann) are still working their way through the thousands of resulting suggestions, so you’re not going to be able to ask to have a specific storm named after your spouse / sibling / pet, no matter how appropriate it might seem.

Satellite image of a storm over the UK
An Atlantic storm over the UK as seen from space (image credit: NASA)

Vaguely related tangent

In 2014, researchers discovered that hurricanes with feminine names caused more fatalities than hurricanes with masculine names, because people subconsciously expect female hurricanes to be ‘nicer’.  This despite the obvious facts that:

a) a hurricane neither knows nor cares what name humans have assigned to it – it’s not going to rethink blowing roofs off houses just because it’s been named Charlotte rather than Charles;

b) what’s with the assumption that anyone/thing is going to be ‘nicer’ just because it identifies / is identified as female? God, but this world is depressing sometimes.

</rant>

Satellite image of a hurricane
A hurricane as seen from space (image credit: ClassicStock)

The ‘when’

UK storms are given a name when they are considered likely to result in an amber or red weather warning. (UK weather warnings run on a scale from yellow – might be a bit unpleasant – through amber – really not good – to red – run away!!) [In the US, for completeness, all tropical storms and hurricanes have names; naming of lesser storms is officially discouraged, although some private organisations – The Weather Channel, for example – like to do it.]

Storm /out

So now I know the why and when of storm naming conventions, and so do you. Next on my agenda for today is to go to the pound shop and buy a doorstop, to prevent a three night run of being startled awake by the wind slamming my door shut.

* People were giving names to storms long before this – Caribbean hurricanes, for example, were for hundreds of years named after the saint’s day on which they struck. 1950s US meteorologists were simply the first ones to formalise naming practices.

References

I haven’t previously included references in my blog posts, but it has occurred to me that maybe I should. So here they are:

National Ocean Service, Why do we name tropical storms?, https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/storm-names.html

National Hurricane Centre, Tropical Cyclone Naming History and Retired Names, https://www.nhc.noaa.gov/aboutnames_history.shtml

Met Office, UK Storm Centre, https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/barometer/uk-storm-centre/uk-storm-centre

Kiju Jung, Sharon Shavitt, Madhu Viswanathan, and Joseph M. Hilbe, Female hurricanes are deadlier than male hurricanes, http://www.pnas.org/content/111/24/8782

Met Office, Weather Warnings Guide, https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/guide/weather/warnings

Brad Panovic (wxbrad), What’s the big deal with naming winter storms?,
http://wxbrad.com/whats-the-big-deal-with-naming-winter-storms/

All accessed 29th November 2018

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