How are storm names chosen? why Dennis and Ciara were selected and the other storm names for 2020
Having been battered by storms Ciara and Dennis in quick succession, many people in Scotland may be wondering how the names for these weather systems are chosen.
Storm Ciara caused havoc in the Scottish borders and is believed to have claimed two lives, while storm Dennis is expected to batter Scotland over the weekend, with warnings of “blizzard conditions” having been put in place.
Here’s how those names were selected - and who chooses them.
Why do storms have names?
While the US has been naming its storms since the 1950s, the UK only adopted the practice in 2014.
Not all storms are given names – only those big enough to cause significant damage.
This means that only those prompting amber warnings (“be prepared”) or red warnings (“take action”) are given names.
The aim of naming storms is to raise awareness of them and draw attention to the potential dangers they pose.
Giving a storm a name also holds the added benefit of making it easier for people to follow the storm’s progress via news updates and social media.
It’s hoped this will make people more likely to take cautionary action to keep themselves safe during periods of severe weather.
Who is responsible for naming storms?
In the UK, the Met Office is responsible for selecting each storm’s name, although they have asked members of the public to make suggestions as well.
The 2015 campaign called #NameOurStorms prompted more than 10,000 suggestions in its very first year, providing a diverse list of potential names.
Suggestions are also taken from the Met Office’s Irish counterpart, Met Eireann.
This year, they have also teamed up with the Dutch weather organisation, Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI) to provide the most eclectic list yet.
How are the names chosen?
Once names have been submitted by the public, the Met Office takes the most popular entries to form a list, with one name beginning with each letter of the alphabet.
They then move though the list in alphabetical order, alternating between male and female names as they go – that’s why Ciara was followed by Dennis this year.
Storms with typically female names have been found to cause more deaths than those with male ones, a 2014 study of American hurricanes found.
The study’s co-author, University of Illinois professor Sharon Shavitt said that the behaviour associated with each gender makes “a female-named hurricane, especially one with a very feminine name such as Belle or Cindy, seem gentler and less violent” to many people.
However when a storm hits the US before crossing the Atlantic to arrive on UK shores, the Met Office will simply continue to use the name assigned to it by America’s National Weather Service, so as to avoid the confusion of having storms with multiple names.
The Met Office also skips over the letters Q, U, X, Y and Z simply because finding names beginning with them is too difficult.
So if you are a Zoe or a Quinn then sadly you may never get to share your name with a storm.
Finally, they reject any names which have been retired following especially destructive storms in the Atlantic, North Pacific, Australian, South-West Indian, such as Maria - the Puerto Rican storm which killed over 3,000 people in 2017.
The Met Office also rejects names which are not “proper names” and these ones have been disregarded on that basis: Apocalypse, Baldrick, Big Boss, Bluetooth, Forkbeard, Gnasher, Hot Brew, Megatron, Noddy, root ripper, Stormageddon, Ssswetcaroline, Vader, Voldermort and branch wobbler.
Although many Scots may fondly recall 2011’s “Hurricane Bawbag”, that storm was officially designated Cyclone Friedhelm by the Free University of Berlin - although the Scottish alternative did become of the top-trending Twitter hashtags in the world at the time.
What will the rest of 2020’s storms be called?
The names for the 2019-20 storm season have already been allocated, so the next ones are as follows:
E - Ellen
F – Francis
G – Gerda
H – Hugh
I – Iris
J – Jan
K – Kitty
L – Liam
M – Maura
N – Norma
O – Olivia
P – Piet
R – Róisín
S – Samir
T – Tara
V – Vince
W - Willow