When I was teaching English conversation to people whose first language was something else, we didn’t just try and give the sort of vocabulary and structure that might be needed in a variety of situations, we also had sessions about topics of conversation. As well as talking about the news, or sport, or what people have been doing since thy last met, one of the most important if not the most important aspect of British conversation is discussing the weather. Whether (ha-ha) it’s a stranger at a bus stop, a casual acquaintance bumped into in the street, or close family and friends, talking about what is happening in the outside, what happened yesterday in terms of heat, light, precipitation, what is forecast… It’s the most popular topic!
In 2015, we were given the opportunity to extend this fascination by choosing names to be giving names to major weather systems affecting the UK and Ireland. The Meteorological Office asked for suggestions for names of storms expected in the autumn and winter of 2015 – 2016 by social media.
This wasn’t just a frivolous fun idea there was a reason and purpose behind what would be a pilot project, was to try and raise awareness of severe weather before it actually happens which might make for greater safety. It’s long been done with hurricanes; since 1953, Atlantic tropical storms have been given names from lists (and there are six lists which are used in turn) thought up by the National Hurricane Center. These lists are maintained and updated every year by an international committee from the World Meteorological Organization . The reason is that giving a name to a weather event helps ordinary people track its progress, and prepare themselves if anything ghastly is heading their way.
So what names were chosen for our ‘events?
In fact, they only got as far as Katie, but already they have names for the next lot of weather… However, in our newspaper today there was an article about the chosen names from last year: last year’s UK storm names provoked some merriment – how could you quake at Storm Wendy or Storm Nigel? It would seem that the Met Office have missed a trick. We were always johnny-come-latelys, and our Storm Brians and Janets look puny beside their American and east Asian equivalents. For a more British approach why don’t we give our storms surnames – the likes of Jenkins and Wilkins for minor squalls; McBride and Cartaret for wilder tempests? Names from popular culture – Storm Bagpuss, Flashman or Voldemort? Or something conveying a sense of Britishness – Storm Kedgeree, Googly, Aspidistra, Oystercatcher, Eisteddfod?
In fact next season’s storms are