With the chaos caused by Storms Ciara and Dennis still affecting some places, it is interesting to ask how the idea of giving a name to storms first came about.
Infact, it’s an approach that has been around a long time and was first formalized in 1953 for naming hurricanes in the USA. It was then adopted internationally by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) for tropical cyclones. The idea itself is simple, which is that it is easier to alert people to the risks if a consistent name is used throughout, such as on radio and television and by the emergency services.
In the UK, though, storm naming is much more recent, starting in 2015. Initially this was as a collaboration between the Met Office and Met Éireann, Ireland’s meteorological service, while the Dutch national service, KNMI, joined in 2019.
The approach largely follows that for hurricanes in that only proper names can be used, and these alternate between male and female, in alphabetical order. The list of names for each storm season is published in advance and is chosen by a public consultation via social media.
As there is only a limited choice, names starting with the letters Q, U, X, Y or Z are ruled out. Also, for those who remember the controversy over naming a polar research vessel, you’ll be glad to know that Stormy McStormface does not qualify.
The main exception to this approach is when storms originate from another region, in which case they keep the name originally assigned. For that reason, storms which started as hurricanes and reach our shores are known as ex-hurricanes. Similarly, Storm Dennis was followed by Storm Jorge, which was the name assigned by Spain’s meteorological service in collaboration with their French and Portuguese counterparts.
Some parts of the world take a different approach though, with pre-defined lists that are repeated every few years. For example, the following names appear on one of the lists used by the regional centre in Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea: Alu, Buri, Dodo, Emau, Fere , Hibu, Ila, Kama, Lobu, Maila. However, WMO notes that:
If a cyclone is particularly deadly or costly, then its name is retired and replaced by another one.
In the UK, storm seasons begin in September so, if you’d like to get involved in the next Name our Storms exercise, watch for announcements on the Met Office’s social media feeds. The UK Storm Centre has more details.
You can also read more about WMO here, which in case you don’t know is a United Nations agency that coordinates data sharing between meteorological services. Plus a host of other activities related to weather forecasting and climate change. Also, read about another aspect of weather and climate here: namely how the seasons are defined.