Gareth, Hannah, Idris, Jane, Kevin, Lily, Max, Niamh, Oliver… That may read like the guest list of a middle-class dinner party, but these are names-in-waiting for storms predicted to hit the UK over the coming year.
How the howling wrath of nature could conjure up the names Lily and Gareth in some people’s minds remains a mystery, but all storm names in the UK are the result of a Met Office and Met Eireann ‘Name Our Storms’ social media campaign in 2015. The campaign received over 10,000 suggestions with the most popular, alternating male/female, names used alphabetically.
Our current storm season began with Ali and Bronagh in September, followed by Callum in October and Deidre before Christmas. Down on the flower farm we recently experienced Storm Erik (with a K): like some kind of angry Viking he tossed our head gardener Bee clear off her feet while she struggled with the plastic sheeting on one of our low-rise caterpillar tunnels.
In just three months, between December 2013 and February 2014, the UK experienced 12 major storms, making it the worst storm season for twenty years. Does it feel like our climate is getting stormier? Big news stories heralding the next big storm make us think so, but the facts don’t suggest that – winter and early spring is always a stormy period.
As I write, we are hunkered down waiting for Storm Freya who is destined to hammer the UK with winds of up to 80 miles per hour. In Norse mythology, Freya is the goddess of love, sex and fertility. She rides a chariot pulled by two cats and a boar, and wears a cloak fashioned out of falcon feathers. What havoc will this formidable character wreak on the farm?
And as a flower farmer, I take a bit more notice of climate than the average person – I am obsessed with the weather. I have four different weather apps on my mobile – the Met Office, BBC, iPhone and XC Weather. I’m constantly checking and updating them as I plan our work. My favourite is the really comprehensive XC Weather app with its beautiful colour coding – blue through to yellow, then pale orange onto darker orange, before reaching the really shouty red stormy stuff – like a visual Beaufort scale.
I remember listening to the actor Sir Ian McKellen reading The Beaufort Scale on BBC Radio 4. He began the scale at wind force zero, one and two, describing the gentle rustle of leaves and progressed through the stages of stormy weather until he got to ‘full-on-red-warning-storm’, shouting at the top of his voice all the possible outcomes that might occur. The melodrama is (intentionally) hilarious.
Rather less theatrically, the Met Office describes, in its standard pedestrian manner, all possible outcomes Storm Freya could provoke: “Strong winds with some travel disruption and possible dangerous conditions.” The website warns we may expect danger to life from flying debris; road and bridge closures; power cuts; damage to buildings and trees; danger to life from large waves…
Consequently, I batten down the hatches on the farm. I make sure all the cold frames are closed, the poly tunnels secure and anything that could cause damage is safely put away. I know, and hope, all will be well as the childhood nursery rhyme plays in my mind: “March winds and April showers, Bring forth May flowers”. We just have to ride out the storm.
The Met Office claims that the naming of storms helps grab public attention and even humanises scary weather. But does it make us all that little bit more anxious about them? After all who among us can’t visualise a furious Freya with her cats and her flapping cloak, winging through the night sky with huge billowing gusts of weather warning winds behind her?
Take cover and be safe everyone. Here’s hoping Gareth, who is no Norse god that I know of, will be in a gentler mood.