How Storm Henk and other UK storms get their names

Waves crash on the breakwater at Newhaven Harbour, Newhaven, East Sussex, as Storm Henk passes through, 02/01/2024
Image caption,Waves crash on the breakwater at Newhaven Harbour in East Sussex during Storm Henk

By Ruth Comerford & James Gregory

BBC News

Storm Henk has caused flooding and travel disruption across parts of the UK, with many areas in England and Wales experiencing strong winds and heavy rain on Tuesday.

The Met Office issued a series of weather warnings, including an amber alert for wind in south-western, central and eastern parts of England.

The strongest gusts on Tuesday were recorded at the Needles Old Battery – an exposed coastal site in the Isle of Wight – reaching speeds of 94mph (151km/h).

More than 300 flood warnings were in place in England on Wednesday. Thousands of homes have been left without power and there has been road and rail disruption.

Storm Henk is the eighth named storm in three months and comes hot on the heels of Storm Gerritt at the end of December.

Why do storms have names?

The US began naming tropical storms in the 1950s.

The idea was to make it easier for people to engage with weather forecasts, as it was thought naming storms made them more relatable – and easier to discuss and compare over time.

In the UK, the Met Office names any storm when it has the potential to cause disruption or damage which could result in an amber or red warning. It believes that it is easier to follow the progress of a storm on TV, radio, or social media if it has a name.

Derrick Ryall, from the Met Office, told BBC Newsround: “We have seen how naming storms elsewhere in the world raises awareness of severe weather before it strikes.”

How are storms named?

The UK Met Office and Irish service Met Éireann launched their first “Name our Storms” campaign in 2015.

Most years, they draw the names from a shortlist of favourites submitted by the public. And since 2019, they have been joined by the national weather service of the Netherlands, which also chips in a few suggested names each year.

For the 2023-24 season, the Met Office has slightly changed its methods and has named a number of storms after prominent scientists, meteorologists and, in its words, others “who work to keep people safe in times of severe weather”.

In the past, storms have alternated between male and female names but that has altered this year in order to honour the right people.

What names are on this year’s list?

When the criteria for naming a storm are met, either the Met Office, Met Éireann or Dutch weather agency KNMI can name a storm, taking the name from the latest list in alphabetical order.

A total of seven names in the 2023-24 storm season have selected by KNMI – including Henk which was submitted by someone who visited an open day at the agency’s headquarters in October 2022.

Babet was named after a woman who also visited and put her own name forward, with the additional reason “because I was born during a storm”.

Storm Gerrit was named after a weather presenter who left the Dutch public news broadcaster NOS in 2023 after 25 years.

Storm Ciarán was named after Ciarán Fearon, a civil servant who works in the Department for Infrastructure in Northern Ireland. His job is to ensure key information is shared on river levels and coastal flooding.

Storm Agnes, which was recognised as the first storm of the season, was named after Agnes Mary Clerke, an Irish astronomer and science writer.

Storm names for 2023-24

Around six to seven named storms impact the UK each year on average, which means names in the second half of the alphabet are put forward but are always unlikely to be used.

And if your name is Quentin or Yasmine, don’t expect to be immortalised as a force of nature. Names beginning with Q, U, X, Y and Z do not even make the shortlist.

You may hear some names over the coming months which are not on the British/Irish/Dutch list. That is because storms are named where they originate so ones that reach the UK are occasionally the tail end of one that started in the US several days earlier – and may have been downgraded from hurricane or cyclone status.

How do other countries name storms?

The weather agencies of the UK, Ireland and the Netherlands make up the western European storm naming group.

Portugal, Spain, Luxembourg, France and Belgium, form the south western group that collaborate to name storms.

Norway, Sweden and Denmark are the northern group.

In the US, the National Hurricane Centre names tropical storms when they have reached winds of least 40mph, using the six alphabetical lists that are maintained by the World Meteorological Organisation. These lists are used on a six-year cycle.

And the undoubted success of the programme of naming storms and hurricanes is underlined by the fact that nobody ever talks about the “hurricane that hit the south-eastern US in August 2005” but the name Hurricane Katrina is universally known and understood.

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