Storm-naming system yet to be put in place as Rachel peters out

Moves afoot across Europe to adopt convention to avoid mixing weather systems up

A storm called Rachel has been rampaging across Ireland, pulling down power lines, knocking out phones and generally being a nuisance. But who is Rachel?

This storm is particularly powerful but there is no official naming convention here for “extratropical cyclones” such as....well Rachel.

"Rachel came from I know not where, the media seemed to have it," said Gerald Fleming, head of forecasting at Met Éireann.

There have been moves across Europe however to adopt a single naming convention for these storms as a way to avoid mixing one storm up with another, he said.


As luck would have it, Met Éireann and Britain's Met Service have been working for some time on developing an Atlantic storm naming convention and this could be in place in a month or two, he said.

The Irish Times can reveal however that an UK online service called Metcheck claims to have named the storm Rachel. It offers members of the site an opportunity to submit names and Metcheck selects what it believes is the most appropriate.

There are benefits for weather forecasters and for the general public if names are used to identify a storm. It removes confusion over which storm is being discussed, Mr Fleming said. “Really though it is more about effective communications,” he added.

The public and media like it and people seem to pay more attention if a storm is personalised in this way as if it were a person stirring up a rainstorm rather than cold fronts and warm fronts.

The Germans have been naming storms that reach them for more than 50 years, said deputy head of forecasting at Met Éireann Evelyn Cusack.

The meteorological institute of the Free University of Berlin started naming them back in 1954, but without the imprimatur of the official German Weather Service.

When it moved in the early 1990s to get rid of the practice there was a backlash from the media and the public. The service backed off and the naming convention remains in place.

A European-wide system would end the current problems of double and even triple names for a storm. A big storm over Scandinavia in 2011 was called Dagmar in Norway, Patrick in Germany and Tapani in Finland.

There are long established rules for naming mid-Atlantic tropical storms and hurricanes, Ms Cusack said. Names are chosen in alphabetical order with alternating male and female names used.

"If a big storm hits land and there is serious damage then the name is retired and not used again, as with Hurricane Katrina, " she said. This system is controlled by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Questions remain to be answered in the north Atlantic however. “We have so many depressions that pass close to Ireland. Do you name them all or only ones that hit you,” she asked.

One advantage of the new IrishUK naming system will be the introduction of interesting new names given they will come from Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales. When might we see a storm called Aoife or Sorcha or Fiach?

Dick Ahlstrom

Dick Ahlstrom

Dick Ahlstrom, a contributor to The Irish Times, is the newspaper's former Science Editor.