The weather bomb, the polar vortex, #snowvember: will the storm of extreme weather names ever end?

Powered by article titled “The weather bomb, the polar vortex, #snowvember: will the storm of extreme weather names ever end?” was written by Leo Benedictus, for The Guardian on Wednesday 10th December 2014 15.54 UTC

Last year it was the St Jude’s Day storm, followed after Christmas by a famously stuck jet stream that bowled in almost constant winter gales and floods. In August we had ex‑Hurricane Bertha, then the continental blowtorch a month later (believed to be a cousin of the Spanish plume). And now, even as we stagger through the aftermath of ex-Hurricane Gonzalo, it’s time for a “weather bomb”.

First of all, don’t scoff. A weather bomb is, in fact, a real phenomenon, the nickname of what meteorologists call “explosive cyclogenesis” when they’re not on TV. “Essentially it just means the pressure in the centre of the storm drops away very rapidly over a fairly short period of time,” says the BBC forecaster Peter Gibbs. And when that means waves 18m high in open water, it is a phenomenon indeed.

Even so we are clearly living through a time of runaway global naming, and it is without doubt manmade. Until recently a stable system allowed only hurricanes and typhoons to be given proper names, while in exceptional circumstances, such as the big freeze of 1963 or the great storm of 1987, folk memory might supply a label. Even so we still don’t really know what to call the severe drought and heatwave that affected Britain in the summer of 1976.

In a way it is surprising that this did not change sooner. After all, it is useful – and more importantly fun – to have a catchy name for anything dramatic that the troposphere might be up to. In the US, the Weather Channel has just started its own system for naming winter storms – using kitsch classical names such as Janus, Hercules, Xerxes and so on, just in case anyone might be tempted to take them seriously. It seemed a long wait until this year’s weather in Buffalo finally came along to justify – and how – the label #snowvember. So much cheerier than last year’s “polar vortex”.

But where is this heading? Towards sanity, dare one hope? Because surely the effect of seeing all these named events together is that, you know, weather happens. As the standup comedian George Carlin used to declare in what he called the ultimate forecast: “The weather will continue to change, on and off, for a long long time.” © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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