• Northern Europe has been hit by 2 named storms so far this year.
  • Weather services name storms to help humanize them.
  • Climate change is making storms more frequent and more severe.

This month, two major Atlantic storms made landfall across Ireland and the United Kingdom: Ciara and Dennis. Other powerful storms are likely on their way in 2020, as warming oceans and a changing climate fuel higher-speed winds. But while we don’t know when the next storms will come, we do know what those storms will be named.

The British Met Office uses a rotating list of names to label major storms. The practice helps humanize the storms, says the Met Office, and build awareness.

The decision to name a storm system is based on two key considerations: firstly, the likely impact, based on strength and severity; secondly, the probability that potential impact will actually occur.

Over the centuries, storms have been labeled in a number of ways, using the names of boats, saints, numbers or even the month a storm occurred. Since some of these solutions could be confusing, formal systems emerged after World War II.

In 1953, the US meteorological service started using female names for Pacific storms to ensure clear communication. By 1978, it had started using both male and female names, and the following year began to do the same for Atlantic storms.

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Names are used on a six-year rotating cycle – but are sometimes permanently retired from use if a storm bearing a particular name has been especially devastating.

For example, Hurricane Katrina caused 1,833 deaths across five US states in 2005, damaging 70% of homes in New Orleans alone. The name Katrina will not be re-used by the US National and Central Pacific Hurricane centers.

Names for North Atlantic storms are the joint responsibility of the UK’s Met Office, Ireland’s Met Éireann, and the Dutch national weather forecasting service, KNMI. Any of these can decide if a storm meets the criteria for being named. The allocated names follow standard alphabetic order although the letters Q, U, X, Y and Z are not used to coincide with the US National Hurricane Center’s naming conventions.

Last year, the Met Office and Met Éireann invited members of the public to suggest names for the storm list. It received thousands of suggestions and used a selection for this year’s storm list to reflect the populations of Britain, Ireland and the Netherlands.

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A-Z of Storm Names
Image: UK Met Office