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Windstorm season: How, why naming UK and Ireland’s severe weather improves public awareness

By Ashley Williams, AccuWeather staff writer

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During windstorm season, the United Kingdom is prone to experiencing bouts of potentially severe weather, including heavy rainfall and powerful, damaging winds.

“For our forecast, we have defined it from October to April as [the U.K.’s] windstorm season,” said AccuWeather Meteorologist Tyler Roys.

“That encompasses much of fall, all of winter and even some of early spring,” he said.

However, storms can occur earlier or later. Aileen, the first named storm of the 2017-18 windstorm season, impacted parts of England and Wales with strong wind gusts and drenching overnight and early-morning downpours from 12 to 13 September.

These storms typically happen at a more frequent pace than the ones which occur in the United States, Roys said.

Storm over a field

“A lot of these storms [are] weather bombs, where they deepen rapidly, and that’s when you get the winds on the south side,” Roys said.

The U.K. Met Office defines a weather bomb as a low pressure system whose central pressure falls 24 millibars (0.71 of an inch of mercury) in 24 hours.

Although U.K. storms typically are not accompanied by an abundance of snow, vicious winds brought on by these storms can pack a mean punch.

Storm Aileen disrupted road and railway travel during the morning rush hour and cut power to more than 7,000 homes in England.

Winds gusting up to 100 mph caused deadly devastation in the U.K. in the late 1980s. The Great Storm of 1987 killed at least 18 people, plowed down about 15 million trees and left thousands of homes without electricity.

Ex-Hurricane Ophelia pounded the U.K. and Ireland with fierce winds exactly 30 years later.

How and why UK storms are named

Prior to the naming of storms that impact the U.K. and Ireland, severe weather was and continues to be highlighted using the National Severe Weather Warning Service, according to the U.K.’s Met Office.

“These warnings are based on a combination of both the impact the weather may have and the likelihood of those impacts occurring,” said Met Office Press Officer and Meteorologist Emma Sharples.

However, confusion ensued in recent years as various organizations took it upon themselves to name storms expected to impact the U.K.

For the sake of clarity in both the public and the media, the Met Office joined efforts with Ireland’s Met Éireann to provide a consistent message as severe weather strikes.

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How tropical storms and hurricanes are named

The Name our Storms scheme began in 2015. Members of the public submitted over 10,000 suggestions for storm names, and lists were compiled based on the public’s input as well as suggestions from Met Éireann.

Storms are named when they have a high potential of causing disruption or damage which might result in an amber or red warning from the National Severe Weather Warning Service.

Amber signifies an increased likelihood of poor weather conditions that could impact travel and safety. A red warning notifies the public of impending severe weather and likely widespread damage and power disruption.

Infographic - UK weather warning colors

How frequently storms are named depends on the type of fall and winter weather conditions affecting the U.K., and the number of storms vary from year to year, Sharples said.

“During the first year of naming, 11 storms were named, whereas [during the 2016-17 season], only five were named,” she said.

Similar to how tropical cyclones are named in the U.S., U.K. and Ireland skip letters Q, U, X, Y and Z in order to comply with international storm naming conventions.

Also, if the remnants of a tropical storm or hurricane impact the U.K. and Ireland and were previously named by the U.S. National Hurricane Center, the Met Office and Met Éireann will continue to use the original storm name.

Surveys have shown that the naming of storms in the U.K. helps further increase awareness and action taken by members of the public in order to keep their families safe.

2017’s Storm Doris achieved an 89-percent awareness score, with 94 percent of those surveyed reporting that severe weather warnings for the storm were useful, according to the Met Office.

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