Storm Abigail

The first officially named wind storm has hit Scotland. It was called Storm Abigail – A Big Gale – someone at the Met office has a sense of humour. The next one in line will be Storm Barney.

We’re told that the idea of naming our storms, in the same way hurricanes are named, is a device to make the public more aware of them and, therefore, more likely to take appropriate action to avoid damage to ourselves and our property.

There may be another benefit. The media may now stop calling our winter wind storms “hurricanes”.

We might see wind speeds of more than 64 knots, one of the criteria used to define a hurricane, but we don’t have hurricanes in the UK. A hurricane is a tropical revolving storm and we aren’t in the tropics. We do occasionally get the remnants of Atlantic hurricanes and in these cases they will continue to be named as they are now, after the hurricane they once were – “ex-hurricane Kate”, for example.

I don’t think we need to sex up these large extra-tropical storms by calling them hurricanes. Our storm systems are powerful enough in their own right, as we’ve seen with Abigail.

Hurricanes (or typhoons or tropical cyclones depending on where you are in the tropics) are quite different to extra-tropical storms. For a start they don’t have associated fronts. They have a warm core; they develop over warm water. Our storms have a cold core; they form over cold water. Hurricanes are very symmetrical and have a calm, well defined, eye. They break up quickly when encountering cold water or land. Hurricanes are more powerful, generally, but smaller in size than extra-tropical storms.