The Power of a Name
The image below shows Ardnamurchan Lighthouse shortly after Storm Eunice had swept across the southern part of the UK leaving a £360m trail of disruption in its wake. Thankfully, the Peninsula missed the worst of the storm, experiencing only moderate gale force winds and not the hurricane force winds that swept across the south of the UK. However, considering that the names of the 6 deadliest storms from UK history are called the 1607 Bristol Channel Flood, the Great Storm of 1703, the Eyemouth Black Friday Storm of 1881, the Blizzard of 1891, the North Sea Flood of 1953, and the Great Storm of 1987, I was left wondering why one of the most powerful storms to hit the south coast of England was simply called Eunice. Well, a little bit of research found that there is a lot of power in such a simple and innocuous name
In 2015, the UK Met Office and its Irish counterpart Met Éireann launched the "Name Our Storms" campaign to raise public awareness of severe weather and to create a single naming system that could be used to aid the communication of approaching severe weather. The result was a list of names that could be used for the 2015/16 storm season, running from early September of 2015 to late August 2016, with further such lists for every year since then.
This campaign proved to be particularly effective at gaining attention on social media and reaching groups of people that had previously been difficult to engage with, meaning that in general, the public became better placed to keep themselves, their property, and businesses safe during major storm events. Such was its success, that the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI) joined the initiative in 2019, recognising that it made a lot of sense to give common names to such extreme weather events.
So now, from around June each year, members of the public from all three participating countries are asked to suggest names for the coming storm season so that a list of selected names can be published on the first day of September. The list is made up of alternating male and female names for each letter of the alphabet, except for Q, U, X, Y and Z. The reason these letters are not used is that there are not many names that begin with them.
Going back to 2015, the first ever name was used to name Storm Abigail, a storm that brought strong winds and heavy rain to much of the UK on 12-13 November 2015, with the most severe weather impacting the northwest of Scotland where power cuts affected up to 20,000 homes and many schools were forced to close for the day.
Returning to this year, the first name for this current storm season was selected by KNMI. It is Antoni and along with Hendrika, Johanna and Loes, is named after an influential Dutch scientist. Met Éireann’s submissions include Cillian, Fleur, Íde, and Nelly and the Met Office’s names include Betty, Daisy, Glen, Khalid and Owain and show the breadth of names in use across the UK. In fact, Betty became the runaway winner of a public vote on Met Office Twitter, with over 12,000 votes cast to select it as the name for the letter B.
Storms are named once they have the potential to cause medium (Amber) or high (Red) impacts to the UK, Ireland or the Netherlands with the effects of wind, rain and snow all being considered when deciding if a name should be used and this season things appear to have been relatively benign because it is mid-February and Antoni is yet to be used to name a storm.
This contrasts with last season when the first storm, Storm Arwen brought destructive winds rain and snow to the UK in late November. It was named on 25 November 2021 and on 26 November 2021, the UK Met Office issued what they described as a "rare red weather warning" due to a deep pressure system moving southwards from the Atlantic Ocean. When the system made landfall in Aberdeenshire, it brought extreme wind and waves all the way down the coast from there to the Tees Estuary.
By the time the Storm Arwen had passed it had left more than a quarter of a million customers without electricity and three people dead. The damage it caused was compounded by sustained winds with gusts in excess of 90 mph that came unusually from the north-east and toppled around 16 million trees, the vast majority of which would have survived had the winds been from the prevailing south-west wind direction.
Storms Barra and Corrie followed in December and January and then, between 16 and 21 February 2022, the UK was successively hit by storms Dudley, Eunice, and Franklin. Of these, Eunice was the most severe with South Wales and the southwest of England being worst hit. On 17 and 18 February 2022, the Met Office issued to two rare red warnings for much of southern England, south Wales and London effectively telling about a third of the UK population to stay at home.
Eunice was one of the most powerful storms to impact the south coast of England since the Great Storm of 1987 and at its peak on 18 February, record gusts of 122 miles per hour were measured at the Needles on the Isle of Wight. By the time Eunice had passed, 4 people had sadly died as a result of it, over a million homes were left without power, a huge hole had been torn into the roof of London’s O2 Arena, a church spire in Wells, Somerset had been blown down, hundreds of train services and flights were cancelled, and many major roads were closed. The estimated bill for all the damage and disruption caused was £360 million.
However, the Met Office said that things could have been a lot worse had it not been for the storm naming system ensuring that better messaging had been in place than that for the Great Storm of 1987. This meant that people had been more aware of Storm Eunice approaching, better prepared for it arriving and had heeded the warnings not to travel. This certainly shows that we should never underestimate the power of a name and simple messaging.
Hi, I’m Steven Marshall, a Scottish landscape photographer based at Rockpool House in the heart of the beautiful West Highland Peninsulas of Sunart, Morvern, Moidart, Ardgour and Ardnamurchan. Get in touch for photography tuition, tours and print sales.