Storm Blog

Storms With Names: Smart or Stupid?

Recently, the weather outside seems to do justice to the name of our study association. If you haven’t lived under a rock the past couple of weeks you probably noticed that it has been storming quite a lot. In September 2019 the Netherlands has started to give storms names, something that is considered cool by some, and ridiculous by others. Tropical storms and hurricanes have had names for a long time already so it seemed only logical to start doing that for European storms as well. But does it actually make any difference?

The KNMI (Royal Dutch Meteorological Institution) already had a system of codes in place before they started to implement the names. A green code meant normal weather, yellow that people have to be careful, orange to prepare for extreme weather, and with red people are practically forced to stay inside. With the new naming system, these codes are still used but additionally a name is given to a storm with a wind force that is 9 or higher on the Beaufort wind scale. The names are used in rotation so chances are that in a couple of years, Ciara will come around again. However, when a storm is so severe that it causes many damages and human loss, the name will never be reused as it is forever bound to that one devastating storm. 

So why did they all of a sudden start naming these storms? Well you probably could have guessed it: people simply care more if something has a name. According to research done in Great Britain, people are more aware of the risks and dangers of the storm when it has a name. Furthermore, it makes communication through media easier. In the US, for example, they started using names when confusion arose when two or more hurricanes at the same time were approaching their country. People didn’t understand anymore to which storm was referred. Of course climate change might play a role in this as well. As storms are becoming more frequent and dangerous, it becomes increasingly important to adequately prepare and warn society for what is to come. This naming system might help with that. And why now? Well that seems to have to do with the fact that a system is being developed to implement this in whole Europe and the Netherlands, together with Great Britain (who was already doing it) is just one of the first to implement it.

But there is a deeper psychological reason around giving storms names as well. According to psychologist Nicholas Epley naming storms humanizes them. This has as a consequence that people try to read the minds of storms by ascribing them intentions. This, in turn, results in us asking the questions of why this storm happened and what can be done to prevent it from happening again. Very useful thought in the wake of severe storms. So why do only storms get names and not hot summer days for example? Well, that is because in order to ascribe minds to something mindless, it has to be dangerous and unexpected, which a summer day is not most of the time. 

Whether this new system of naming storms is actually going to change anything about the way we handle storms remains to be seen. Nevertheless, naming something does seem to trigger something in the human mind that makes them more aware of it. And even if it does nothing, it is still a nice conversation starter. Now, instead of talking about the ugliness of the weather, we can also discuss the ugliness of the name Ciara. And I for example can say that my name (minus the ‘h’) will be the tenth storm this year!


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