On Naming Storms

When you live in the north of Scotland, whether Orkney — where I grew up — or Caithness, where I currently stay, you are used to storms. High winds, ridiculous seas, horizontal rain, sleet, hail and snow, items that shouldn’t do so flying across fields, caravans torn apart, chicken sheds heading out to Norway.

As a twitter friend recently remarked, storms up here need to be experienced to be believed.

This morning I had a thought. My sister, Lydia, had tweeted something about the oh-so-American system of naming storms, recently introduced in the UK.

She isn’t keen on the idea.

To be honest, up until she mentioned this I was indifferent. I didn’t care whether a storm was classed as Violent Storm 11, Phenomenal Seas, or Henry. It makes no difference to the actual storm itself.

But what does it do? This idea, that there is more to the naming of a storm than simply a publicity issue, or a ready hashtag, would not leave me. The more I thought about it, the more I realised something else may be happening here, something I have not seen mentioned elsewhere (it probably has, I just haven’t been looking — indifferent, remember?).

There are winters where there seem to be fewer storms than others, there are winters where the storms are almost incessant, blurring into one: “That was a stormy January.”  By naming a storm, which is, essentially, simply numbering with letters — instead of Alpha, we had Abigail, instead of Hotel, Henry — what has happened to our collective psyche is simple, we now have a method to remember how many storms we are experiencing, without actually realising that we are counting them. “Ooh, we’re up to H now…”

Why is this important? Why was it introduced? I do not really know the real reasons, nor do I really care.

But I do wonder if someone very clever influenced this decision, added it to the nation’s collective consciousness for a reason — and a very simple reason. By having those ready hashtags, by linking a storm to social media in such a way, the names serve as a reminder — that stormy January is broken down into weather-events, into bite-sized morsels of flooding, of wave and sea damage, of power-outages and deep snow. The blurring is removed.

Well, that’s all very sensible, isn’t it? It would be difficult to argue with any of this, wouldn’t it? And this is the point where I am sure others will disagree with me — what if the whole naming of storms was deliberately introduced for another reason? What if, as well as the above, it was intentionally introduced so the public can see just how many storms we have, a method of comparing one year to the next, showing how weather systems are altering, how these “once in a generation” flood events are now happening every other year.

Climate change personified through mnemonic device?

Of course I could be wrong entirely. As I often am! This is merely me thinking aloud, a swift and brief journal entry that has somehow made it public.

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