Environmental Laboratory

How Are UK Storm Names Chosen?

Nov 04 2017 Comments 0

The British storm season is now two months old, with the new one beginning at the start of September 2017. For two years now, the British Met Office and the Irish Met Éireann have worked together to give individual storms identifying names, as has been practiced in the USA and other countries for decades.

But why do we give storm names? How do we decide which meteorological events qualify as “serious” enough to earn a moniker? And how do we go about choosing a particular name for a particular storm?

What’s in a name?

The practice of naming storms has been undertaken by the National Hurricane Center in the USA since 1953. However, it has only been adopted by the UK in the last couple of years. Traditionally, Britain’s temperate climate has not been severe enough to warrant naming of storms by meteorological bodies, but an increased incidence of extreme weather events over the last few years has seen that approach change.

The extreme flooding of 2015/2016 saw the inception of the first “storm season” in the UK, running from October 2015 to September 2016. The idea has been adopted to simultaneously raise awareness of extreme weather in the UK and to make the phenomenon more relatable to those which they affect most heavily.

Meanwhile, “[t]he naming of storms using a single authoritative system should aid the communication of approaching severe weather through media partners and other government agencies,” according to the official Met Office website.

What qualifies as a storm?

Of course, with the inclement weather which besets large parts of the UK almost all of the calendar year, it wouldn’t make sense to name every patch of rainfall or blizzard that occurs. With that in mind, the Met Office boffins have devised a traffic light system named the National Severe Weather Warning Service.

Depending on the potential impact of the wind, rain and snow that a storm carries, as well as the likelihood of those impacts coming to pass, a storm will be designated as either green, yellow, amber (orange in Ireland) or red.

If a storm is designated amber/orange (which means “be prepared”) or red (which means “take action”), it will qualify as severe enough to be named. The Met Office and the Met Éireann will then decide together which name it will take.

How are the names chosen?

If a storm has already affected another part of the world and been given a name there, the UK and Irish authorities will simply adopt the same name. However, if it’s a completely new weather event that has not yet been named, it will fit into the pre-designated calendar of names chosen at the beginning of the season.

For example, the devastating Storm Harvey lashed American coastlines but did not reach Britain; if it had, it would still have been called Harvey (and not the Hector which has already been set aside for H in this year’s list). The Met Office reach out to social media for suggestions of names at the beginning of the season – this year, they received in excess of 10,000. From this amount, the list is whittled down to just 21 names, which is one for every letter of the alphabet except for Q, U, X, Y and Z, largely because there are not many names to go with these letters.

The chosen names must alternate between male and female as they run through the remaining 21 letters in the alphabet. Here is the list of storm names that have already been selected for extreme weather events leading up to September 2018:

A – Aileen                                       B – Brian                                         C – Caroline

D – Dylan                                       E – Eleanor                                     F – Fionn

G – Georgina                                H – Hector                                        I – Iona

J – James                                      K – Karen                                        L – Larry

M – Maeve                                     N – Niall                                          O – Octavia

P – Paul                                         R – Rebecca                                   S – Simon

T – Tali                                            V – Victor                                       W - Winifred       

And that's how UK storm names are chosen!       

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