Stormy weather - what's in a name?

Est. Reading: 3 minutes

The overriding impression for visitors to the Commons Lands in recent weeks has been the sodden conditions. There has been a lot of rain; there is standing water wherever you look; it has been a tad damp underfoot.

And while, as I noted in November’s column after Storm Babet brought heavy downpours, the waterscape of the meadows when it floods can be magical, the saturated ground hinders our rangers and volunteers getting on with their important winter work programme. The surfeit of mud means they cannot move machinery and vehicles to where they need it, delaying tasks like fence and hedge repairs.

Trees down

The most recent inundation (at the time of writing) brought by Storm Henk in the first days of January also came with a dose of high winds that brought down a few poplar trees on the Valley Trail. Our team was on hand to clear the fallen trunks from the path and make safe uprooted trees that were left hanging on neighbouring branches – again at the cost of them getting on with their busy schedule.

But that is the nature of our work, having to be ready to deal with any unforeseen challenges, often brought on by the weather. But these past months have seemed more rain-soaked than most – an impression borne out by recent figures that show across the UK the period between July and December 2023 was the wettest on record dating back more than 130 years to 1890, according to the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (UKCEH).


What also seems unusual in recent times, are the uncommon names attributed to each major storm.

In December we had Storms Elin, Fergus and Gerrit with Henk joining them on January 2nd

The reason there are names from Ireland and the Netherlands in there is because the Met Office compiles its list of storm names jointly with its Irish equivalent Met Éireann and KNMI - the Dutch national weather forecasting service. This makes up the western storm-naming group. Elsewhere in Europe, Spain, Portugal, France, Belgium and Luxembourg come together to form the south-western storm naming group while Norway, Sweden and Denmark partner for the northern group.

The UK has been naming its storms since 2015, issuing a new list each September to coincide with the start of autumn, when we see the likelihood of low-pressure systems and the potential for named storms increase.

According to the Met Office, in the UK a storm is named when it has the potential to cause disruption or damage which could result in an amber or red warning. This is based on the National Severe Weather Warnings service, which is a combination of both the impact the weather may have, and the likelihood of those impacts occurring.

But who decides on the storm names?

Contributions to the list are made up of submissions from the public and names of people involved in responses to severe weather. Babet, for example, was selected by KNMI and named after a woman who visited an open day at the weather agency’s headquarters and put her name forward, stating: “Because I was born during a storm.”

Storm Ciarán, which hit in November was named after Ciarán Fearon, who works for the Department for Infrastructure in Northern Ireland. Storm Debi, also in November, was a tribute to Debi Garft, a recently retired senior policy officer in the Scottish Government Flooding Team.

The Met Office says the naming of storms using a single authoritative system “provides a consistent message and aids the communication of approaching severe weather through the media and other government agencies.”  The hope is by making it easier for people to engage with weather forecasts, the public will be better placed to keep themselves, their property and businesses safe.

But there are some that think that giving storms names can result in people becoming complacent and not taking the predicted harsh weather seriously enough.

When Storms Dudley and Eunice were announced last February, there were many comments on social media to the effect that rather than engender caution, the names reminded them of a kindly aunt or uncle who they would like to share a cup of tea and slice of cake with.

On a similar theme, one piece of research on US-based hurricanes purported to show that feminine-named hurricanes cause significantly more deaths than masculine-named hurricanes. This was put down to a key element – gender-based expectations. The argument went that people were less likely to take precautions if a storm had a female name than if it was labelled with a male moniker, and that the potency of a name bore no relation to the vigour of its associated storm front.

On this year’s storm list, when the next big storms hit, are genteel names such as Isha, Jocelyn, Lilian and Minnie. Underestimate them at your peril!

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