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Dublin: 9 °C Sunday 18 November, 2018
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Christine, Brigid... and now 'Ruth' --- Why are women getting the blame for all this destruction?

And who’s coming up with all these names anyway?

WE HAD ‘STORM Christine’ at the start of the year — while last weekend ‘Brigid’ wreaked havoc across Limerick, Cork, Clare and other parts of the country. This morning, meanwhile, we’ve been enjoying a visit from ‘Ruth’.

So why all the women’s names? And who’s coming up with them anyway? (And, whatever about Christine or Ruth, since when has anyone heard of a ‘Brigid’ who caused any trouble whatsoever?)

Well — to date at least, it appears misogyny plays little or no part in how these names are decided.

TV3 weatherman Deric Hartigan came up with the moniker for the New Year storm — apparently on the basis that it landed pretty soon after Christmas. And last weekend’s weather system hit the country on 1 February — and as anyone who received an Irish primary school education will know, that’s the feast day of a certain Kildare-based saint.

The tradition of naming storms after the closest saint’s day is hundreds of years old (remember the ‘St Jude’ storm system last October?). In the Carribean, there was even a precedent for such storms to have a sequel — for instance, there are two ‘San Felipe’ hurricanes: one in 1876 that caused less than 20 deaths, and another in 1928 that killed thousands across the region and in Florida.

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Brigid. A known toublemaker [Wikimedia Commons]

And Ruth? It appear’s Hartigan’s again responsible for bringing the name to the wider attention of the Irish media, after he began using it on Twitter this week.

The storm was originally named by The Free University in Berlin, which began christening all high and low weather systems in 1954. Though the initiative isn’t sanctioned by official forecasting organisations, names given by the college are regularly used in the German media and elsewhere.

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[Image: Free University Berlin]

And the advantages of christening a storm? It’s kind of ‘know your enemy thing’ — at least, as far as Hartigan is concerned.

“In Ireland, we’ve never really paid much attention to storm names but due to the increased intensity and destructive nature of recent storms, we’re beginning to latch onto them,” the presenter told TheJournal.ie

“By giving them a name, it’s simply a way of giving the public a closer connection to a particular storm as it builds, approaches and makes landfall.”

Gender wars

The issue of using women’s names has caused trouble before (not that it’s causing any particular trouble this time… but this article began with a certain premise, so you’ll have to stick with us). The National Hurricane Centre in Miami — which is the only officially-recognised agency to name Atlantic storms — used female names only until quite recently. The current system of alternating female and and male names was only introduced in 1979 (more women were becoming meteorologists by then, and found the previous system just that little bit sexist).

According to the US Government’s Atlantic Oceanographic & Meteorological Laboratory:

From 1950 to 1952, tropical cyclones of the North Atlantic Ocean were identified by the phonetic alphabet (Able-Baker-Charlie-etc.), but in 1953 the US Weather Bureau switched to women’s names after the Armed Services’ practice.

In 1979, under political pressure, the US National Weather Service (NWS) requested that the WMO’s Region IV Hurricane Committee switch to a hurricane name list that alternated men’s and women’s names.

So, currently — the official list of hurricane names begins with Arthur, Bertha an Cristobal and ends with Teddy, Vicky and Wilfred (even though ‘Wilfred’ sounds even less likely than Brigid to cause the least bit of bother). There are six lists used, and they’re recycled every year.

They had a similar issue over at the Free Berlin University too, and in 1998 switched from their previous tradition of naming all “bad weather” systems after women and all “good weather” ones after men. Now, the ladies just get the blame in even-numbered years.

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[Weather reports from Berliner Tagesspiegel, n-tv and Sat1 Television]

Why don’t Met Éireann give names to storms that affect Ireland? Sure they have enough to be getting on with, as they told us in the wake of ‘Christine’:

“If we named every depression we’d go through the alphabet five times over ever year.”

Mixed outlook

The country’s been warned to expect as many as three more storm systems before next weekend. So depending on whether or not Berlin’s nomenclature catches on to any great degree — that could mean potential visits from ‘Tini’, ‘Ulla’ and ‘Violetta’.

However — if we go with a more traditional naming method, there’s always a chance the gender balance could be restored somewhat by a ‘Storm Valentine’.

Either way, we’re all likely to get a little damp over the next few days. And despite Brigid dropping-by last weekend — spring remains on hold.

Read: Why Storm Christine wasn’t actually called Storm Christine

Read: Here’s what’s on the way tonight… And no end in sight, says Met Éireann

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