Abigail, Nigel and Steve are some of the names chosen by popular vote for this winter’s storms, but they hardly conjure up the drama of what is, after all, violent weather. Far more imaginative were the names of storms chosen in olden days.
For sheer drama it’s hard to beat the Grote Mandrenke, the Great Man Drowning, of 1362, that led to at least 25,000 deaths along the North Sea coastlines of England and Europe. In the nineteenth century, tropical storms were often given interesting names, including the Privy Hurricane of 1898 that battered Cuba and was named after an outdoor toilet swept away at a weather observation outpost.
Perhaps the most imaginative names were thought up in Victorian times by a colourful character called Clement Wragge, the state meteorologist for Queensland. He named the worst storms after people he disliked, especially politicians – a particularly violent storm was called Conroy after a national politician, and Wragge’s naming system was dropped shortly afterwards.
It’s taken much longer for storm names to catch on in Europe in modern times, and Britain has been particularly reluctant to join in with any naming scheme. But on 28 October 2013 a storm that battered southern Britain was dubbed St Jude’s Storm, after the patron saint of lost causes whose feast day happened to fall on that day. The Met Office claimed they had nothing to do with the name, even though it was adopted by the media and instantly caught everyone’s imagination. Perhaps this is the reason why the Met Office has finally got round to naming storms.