Ciara, Dennis, now Ellen: How do storms get their names?

Ciara, Dennis, now Ellen: How do storms get their names?
European storms are given different names depending on where they originate. Credit: Belga

Belgium has been hit by storms Ciara and Dennis over the past weekends, and new storms Ellen and possibly even Francis have been forecast for the end of the week, but where do these names come from?

If and when the next storm will be formed is not yet sure, but it is a fact that if it develops over England or Ireland, it will be named 'Ellen'. Since 2015, British storms have been given names, aiming to make it clearer for the media and the government which storms could cause problems when.

In 2019, the British Met Office, the national meteorological service for the UK, organised a social media campaign to collect suggested names for the storm seasons, from which an alphabetical list of names was drawn up to last throughout the storm season, alternating men's and women's names.

"It is premature to say that we will get another storm next weekend," said VTM weather reporter David Dehenauw, reports Het Nieuwsblad. "For the time being, the models show 6 Beaufort over land and 8 at sea. We don't call it a storm until 9 Beaufort," he added.

"Weather and climate are among the most popular news themes, so will perhaps be reported on more. On social media, #Dennis or #Ciara is also easily picked up," Dehenauw said. "British research had shown that it would be more convenient to name the storms, but that does not mean that the storms are getting heavier. A name can provide clarity," he said.

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"Naming the storms is a complex situation," VRT weather reporter Frank Deboosere told De Standaard. European storms are given different names depending on where they originate. "Since 2018, the Portuguese, Spanish and French weather services have started their own naming system. Belgium has joined that group," said Deboosere.

"The Netherlands has joined the names from Great Britain and Ireland. In Scandinavia, they use their own names. For the Southeast Europe region, another Greek-Italian group for storm names exists, and Germany is a complete lone wolf. Ciara was called Sabine, for example," he added.

Since 1954, every low and high-pressure area in Germany has been given a name, and since 2002, the system has been commercialised: naming a high-pressure area costs €299 plus VAT, a low-pressure area €199 plus VAT. "In 2019, 136 depressions and 50 high-pressure areas were given a name, you can start counting," said Deboosere.

"I don't think these national commercial reflexes are okay, it only makes the situation more confusing. Even during the Cold War, information about the weather was exchanged between East and West, but now apparently, there are all kinds of obstacles that make the exchange difficult. I hope there will soon be a clear directive at the European level: one storm, one name," he added.

However, the names that storms have been given, like Ciara, Dennis, and soon probably Ellen, remain the same in Belgium. "The country that first proclaims 'code orange', chooses the name from its list," said Dehenauw.

Maïthé Chini

The Brussels Times

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