Naming storms has been success, say UK meteorologists

<span>Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA</span>
Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA

With three named storms hitting country in just six days, experts reject claim people will become inured to threat

In just six days the UK has been battered by a triple whammy of Dudley, Eunice and Franklin and next up could be Gladys. But does the naming of storms heighten awareness to the danger, or inure us?

Liz Bentley, chief executive of the Royal Meteorological Society, says that it does work and heightens awareness. “Having named storms gives them a kind of uniqueness, identity and higher profile … that need for people to listen and take action.”

The naming of storms in the UK and Ireland is a recent phenomenon, although it has been used around the world for decades. But in 2015 the UK Met Office and Ireland’s Met Éireann launched the Name our Storms project to improve communication of high-impact weather events.

The public are invited to suggest names for the storms and a list of alternate male and female names is issued in September. Last year it began with Arwen and if there is a storm later this week it will be Gladys. Future names include Imani, Nasim, Ruby and Tineke.

The naming of storms comes on top of the system in which the Met Office issues yellow, amber and rare red warnings.

Bentley accepted that having so many weather warnings could inure people to their danger. “I’ve heard people say: ‘We always have warnings and people become blase about them.’ But they are there for a reason.”

People will only become blase, Bentley believes, if they stop believing them. “The worst thing that could happen is that we push out lots of these warnings and then nothing happens. There’s that feeling of we’re crying wolf.”

She said the Met Office had done an impressive job in naming Eunice last Monday. “To get that message out five days in advance is pretty good going.”

Named storm warnings work, said Bentley, pointing to the 22 lives lost in the “great storm” of 1987, which came through when most people were asleep. Eunice was during the day and three people in the UK were killed. “Any loss of life is terrible but it could have been an awful lot worse.”

The pioneer of storm naming as we know it was a meteorologist called Clement Wragge, who worked for the Queensland government between 1887 and 1907. It was adopted by US navy and air force meteorologists during the second world war for the naming of tropical cyclones and became common practice in the US and Australia from the 1950s.

Andrew Charlton-Perez, professor of meteorology at Reading University, was part of a team that explored the impact of naming storms by looking at Storm Doris, which took place in 2017, and how information flowed.

“You can definitely see very large spikes in attention around that term a couple of days before the event, there really is communication going on.”

Naming Storm Eunice so far in advance “really did change behaviour”, he said. “Both the warnings and storm naming is all about changing behaviour and making sure that people don’t put themselves at risk so I think yes absolutely, that worked in this case.”

He praised the Met Office for making the right calls at the right time, meaning people took note. “You can end up with doing this too much and people get inured to it.” So far, that was not happening, he said.