Why 'Name our Storms'? UK & Ireland severe weather communications
Blog by Jo Farrow
25th October 2017 16:14

Why 'Name our Storms'? UK & Ireland severe weather communications

We have a new list of 21 storm names for Autumn/Winter 17/18. The Name our Storm idea was established to help communicate warnings of severe weather to the public. Grabbing attention in the news, particularly on social media, about upcoming bad weather and its impacts for Ireland and the UK. Originally, this was just about wind, but it now covers strong winds, heavy rain and also, if it ever comes, snow. The widespread flooding from #StormDesmond prompted the adjustment after the first trial year. 

After Angus last year, it is now the ladies turn to go first. This list contains suggestions from the original trawl for names from the general public when the project was first trialled. They usually go in alphabetic order, but miss out Q, U, X, Y and Z. This is in keeping with the naming conventions used in the Atlantic by the US National Hurricane Centre (NHC) for hurricanes and tropical storms.

You will notice the anomalous Ophelia. If the remnants of a Tropical Storm or ex-Hurricane head over the Atlantic and create their own weather event here in the British Isles, the resulting low pressure keeps its tropical name. Usually, these are just mixed up, old areas of warm air and extra energy, giving a bit of oomph to an autumnal low. However, the extraordinary Hurricane Ophelia did things her way and there was no mistaking her arrival for Ireland, even if she had by then become a post-tropical hurricane. So, she has been added into this list, as a special guest wildcard. The NHC has their own list for tropical cyclones each year. The Name our Storms lists from 2016/2017 and 2015/16 are available, however not all the names were used.

When do storms get named?

An Amber or Red warning needs to be issued by the Met Office or Met Eireann. These get issued when there is enough confidence in the forecast that severe weather is likely to happen and twill have impacts on the British Isles. Warnings now use a combination of Likelihood and expected Impacts. It is not just top wind strengths or amount of rainfall. It can relate to the time of day, location, which day of the week, how wet the ground is already, are there spring tides or busy travel period coming up. The fastest way to find out when a Storm has truly been named is to follow the official feeds on Twitter, or to check The Met Office Storm Centre. Brian was randomly named several times, on different weeks before officially appearing and the same happened in 2016 for other names. 

The naming process seems quite muddled

Bearing in mind, this was created to get the warning messages out to the public clearly and to essentially protect life, there have been times when us media people have just put our heads on the desk and groaned. And I don't just mean when the Daily Express names any old low in the Atlantic with 6 days to go. The lateness of issue, missing the 10 o'clock news bulletin on Sunday night before Ophelia, missing Friday breakfast bulletins before people head off to work or school and then a warning at 0930. Met Eireann not telling UK Met Office they are going to name, an embargo on the name and then someone just tweets it anyway. And this is to the people who want to give out the message, who want it to work and who are in a position to access a major audience. 

Linking the name to an Amber level warning makes the whole thing unwieldy and frustrating.  It does seem like it's become constrained by bureaucracy, form filling,  and set update times, not looking at the waiting audience. Overall it is a good idea, it just isn't there yet in practice and this is season three. 

Is this all just American-ised (ized) codswhallop?

No, the aim is about getting a consistent message out about a specific event. We do get bouts of heavy rain and strong winds a day or so before an incoming storm. Hopefully now, the main event should remain identifiable and its warnings areas still clear to the public. Do people think Named Storms are more severe than our usual autumn lows? There can be a perception that a named storm will affect everyone, and if it wasn't IMBY (in my back yard) then it didn't happen or was an over-reaction and so the naming was ridiculous. This is also the case with heatwaves and snow, which is why weather forecasting headlines are so tricky to write. The names have certainly caused a stir, particularly Doris in Feb 2017

Poll from the Netweather Forum

What if I do have a name suggestion for the future?

You can email in.There were so many suggestions they don't need any for this year.  A new list of names will be compiled jointly between Met Éireann and the Met Office. Everyone is welcome to suggest names for future consideration, but they do already have thousands - email to [email protected] or tweet @MetEireann

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