Dick Durham: We’ve heard of the beast from the east, but now all gales are going to be named in a bid to make weather simpler...


There are any number of DIY weather forecasting manuals and all of them train us up the same way. There’s the overview: the plan of a weather system with its wobbly isobars, wind arrows and knuckle-dusters of warm, cold and occluded fronts, which you must try to imagine as a whirlpool in the heavens ranging across two and a half thousand miles of ocean, as it twists towards the UK from the USA.

There’s the section of a warm front mounting cold air, rising up to produce first of all cirrus, then cirrostratus, altostratus, nimbostratus and stratocumulus cloud: we’ve all held the drawings up in the cockpit and tried matching it to the grey murk we are sailing through.

Buys Ballot’s Law, the coriolis effect, secondary fronts, all are carefully drafted and explained, but few of us try to make sense of textbook theory on a dark and stormy night. And none of it helps you much while listening to the Shipping Forecast and wrangling with the numbers of millibars to gauge just how bad an approaching low pressure system is going to be.

Now, however, all our struggles are over. From this autumn and on through the winter thanks to what is either a dumbing-down exercise, or a way of making forecasts more accessible, the Met Office and Met Eireann are going to be trial naming depressions just like their American counterparts.

“Members of the public are to choose the names
of depressions, so bring on Storm Savannah and
Hurricane Hailey’

At first I imagined this would take the serious form of gales being named after relevant historic game-changers . So instead of, low pressure 985 approaching south-east Iceland, we could be presented with Hurricane Humbolt, Gale Galileo, or Storm Shackleton.

But then I learned that members of the public are to choose the names, perhaps in a bid on behalf of the Met Office to seem less elite after being ditched by the BBC as its favoured weather supplier. So bring on Storm Savannah, Gale Jordyn and Hurricane Hayley.

You can christen your own tempest via the Met Office’s Twitter account (@metoffice, #nameourstorms), or its Facebook pages, or by email. Names already linked to fatal storms, for instance Mitch, Wilma or Katrina, will not be accepted as they have been ‘retired’ for the sake of good taste and if a storm has already been christened by another forecaster before it hits our shores, no deed poll to change its name will be permissible.

Other names which have already been used such as Kyle, Whitney and Lisa, all believe it or not the names of Atlantic storms, are on a list for recycling and cannot be used for six years.

And only winds which are likely to cause high impact or medium disruption, say no less than Force 6 or thereabouts, will be worthy of a moniker.

So a ‘yachtsman’s gale’ or ‘half a gale of wind’, both enough in the wrong circumstances to give a sailor medium disruption or high impact, will remain unchristened. It may still prove to be categorised in the cockpit as a bastard breeze, however, which, in titular terms, may be quite accurate upon reflection. So what’s in a name?

Derrick Ryall, head of the public weather service at the Met Office believes naming storms ‘raises awareness’ of heavy weather before you need to shorten sail. He may be right, but in my opinion bad storms are only remembered after they’ve sent tarpaulins abroad, knocked laid-up yachts over like skittles or discovered the weakest link in mooring chains.

For instance the 1987 hurricane which killed 18 people, felled 15 million trees and caused £2 billion worth of damage, is remembered only by the name of the Met Office forecaster who said it wouldn’t happen: Michael Fish.