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File image of Kathleen McNulty Mauchly Antonelli (l) and Kathleen Lonsdale
Naming up a storm

Who are the Kathleens of Storm Kathleen fame?

Met Éireann provided the names of seven eminent Irish scientists to be used for the 2023/24 storm season.

STORM KATHLEEN IS set to dominate the news landscape over the weekend, with a Status Orange wind warning in place for five counties tomorrow, but who are the figures that the storm has been named after?

In September, Met Éireann, along with the national weather services of the UK (Met Office) and the Netherlands (KNMI), released the list of new storm names for the 2023/2024 storm season.

Met Éireann and the UK Met Office have been working together on the Storm Names partnership since 2015, and were joined by KMNI of the Netherlands in 2019.

Storms get named when they’re deemed to have the potential to cause ‘medium’ or ‘high’ impacts in Ireland, the UK, or the Netherlands and the idea is to help raise awareness of the potential impacts.

The current storm season runs from 1 September, 2023 to 31 August, 2024.

Each of the three meteorological services contribute seven names to the list – the letters Q, U, X, Y, and Z are not included, in line with the US National Hurricane Centre naming convention.

Met Éireann chose letters A, F, J, K, L, N, and V (Agnes, Fergus, Jocelyn, Kathleen, Lillian, Nicholas, and Vincent).

It picked the names of scientists from the island of Ireland and Met Éireann said this was an effort to “honour their important contributions to science and benefits for humankind”.

In this instance, Storm Kathleen is named after not one, but two Kathleens from Ireland.

One is Kathleen ‘Kay’ McNulty Mauchly Antonelli, described by Met Éireann as “one of the mothers of computer programming”.

kay-mcnulty Kathleen ‘Kay’ McNulty Mauchly Antonelli

Born in Co Donegal, she died in the United States in 2006 and was one of the six original programmers on the ENIAC machine, which was one of the first general purpose electronic digital computers.

In 2017, DCU honoured Kay by naming their computer science building in her name.

The Irish-Centre for High-End Computing (ICHEC) also honoured her in 2019 when they named their new supercomputer “Kay” following a public vote.

The second Kathleen is Kathleen Lonsdale, who was born in Kildare in 1903 and was a crystallographer.

kathleen-yardley-lonsdale-1903-1971-6916913163-o Kathleen Lonsdale Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

A crystallographer is a scientist who studies the inner structures of crystals and Lonsdale is famous for her work in developing several X-ray techniques for the study of crystal structure.

In 1945, she was one of the first two women inducted as a Fellow of the Royal Society.

Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell, who discovered the first pulsating radio stars in 1967, is the only living scientist to have been chosen by Met Éireann.

Speaking last year, she said she was “delighted to feature in this distinguished list celebrating science”.

She added: “Science advancements increase our knowledge and understanding of the world around us, and I think this is a wonderful example of science-based services communications.”

And while there was some confusion in the UK and the Netherlands as to the pronunciation of Storm Ciarán, this was a UK Met Office inclusion.

Ciarán was submitted by the public, but was also named after Ciarán Fearon, who works for the Department for Infrastructure in the North and uses Met Office data to share information on river levels and coastal flooding.

The other inclusions on Met Éireann’s list for this year’s storm season were:

  • Agnes Mary Clerke: Irish astronomer and science writer, best known for her book ‘A Popular History of Astronomy during the Nineteenth Century’.
  • Fergus O’Rourke: A Scientist who contributed to the study of ants and provided an early consideration of the importance of ants as disease carriers.
  • Lilian Bland: A pioneer aviator, the first woman in Ireland to build and fly an aircraft, and quite possibly the first woman to build her own airplane, the Bland Mayfly.
  • Nicholas Callan: An Irish priest and physicist who invented the induction coil that was used in early telegraphy and is still being used in some electronic devices today.
  • Vincent Barry: A scientist best known for leading the team which developed the anti-leprosy drug clofazimine.

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