So there we all were, nervously going to bed on Sunday night wondering how on earth we were all going to survive the impending storm that was heading our way. Unusually for the UK, this storm had also been given a name – St.Jude – which to my knowledge is the first time this has ever happened here. The great storm of ’87 is simply known as the ‘great storm of ’87’ and the similar battering the country took in 1990 is only ever really referred to as ‘when it was windy in 1990’. So is there now a system in place where there is a naming protocol for storms, and if so, is it done simply to prepare ourselves for something terrible where all the hype is built up in advance, only for it to be arrive far less menacing when it eventually arrives? Also, although there seems to be a pretty steadfast naming protocol for tropical storms in those parts of the world where life changing weather is frequent, is it really needed here? So then this got me thinking. Someone must be in charge of these things and if so, how comes? And also,what is their system for assigning names? To my knowledge St.Jude is the patron saint of hopeless cases, the saint that my mum would often encourage me to pray to should I be searching for my keys or an errant golf ball, so I had developed an association of kindness,caring and understanding with him. (Her?). I certainly hadn’t associated this particular saint with a destructive force of nature who’s impending presence would be responsible for a swathe of destruction sweeping across the land or even blowing over some garden furniture and the odd fence panel. It seems though that the reason for this name is simple… it was going to arrive on St.Jude’s day. Is that really the best we can come up with? Really? I have it on good authority that it was also St. Ferrutius day which sounds so much better. I can imagine in years to come when people look back at the blustery day we had and will gather in a pub somewhere reminiscing about weather in the olden days saying things like
” Do you remember the great St.Ferrutius storm, Dave?
” Certainly do Steve, it knocked the St. Wilfetrudis one into a cocked hat”.
And what would have happened if this storm had of arrived on St.Valentines day? Would we start to attribute a deadly weather system to a saint that we normally regard as the patron saint of over priced flowers and chocolates? Personally, I’d have paid good money for it to have made landfall on Pancake day.
As we are in the infancy of storm naming in this country I think we should start afresh and come up with a much simpler and less religious based system. I’d like to put myself forward as the chief of storm naming which apart from giving me a great business card would also give me an opportunity to vent some stored up anger. My naming system would be easy to understand and also give some clarity on what we were going to be faced with. For example, and for reasons that all men will be able to identify with, storms which are are difficult to predict and could change direction without any prior warning would be given women’s names. Names like Belinda, Annette and Harriet would be given to relatively gentle storms that arn’t likely to cause too much aggro whereas names like Chantelle, Britney and Chelsea would be given to storms likely to cause more widespread aggravation. For the ones that would affect the lives of many millions of people and lead to a widespread change to the landscape, I would simply name them hurricane Thatcher. Storms that were more simple and easy to predict would be given men’s names. Starting at the more devastating end of the scale, people should be left in no doubt as to the severity of what was about to come and so a storm that was going to make certain landfall and administer indiscriminate destruction on a catastrophic scale would be called hurricane Vader. Using my newly introduced system, this weeks highly anticipated and much hyped storm of cataclysmic proportions would simply have been called Trevor.
On Sunday night we were being urged to stay indoors and not to make any unnecessary journeys during the early hours of Monday morning especially during the rush hour. I’ve yet to fully understand though what exactly constitutes an unnecessary journey. Surely all journeys are necessary arn’t they? I mean, I’ve got to go to work as I don’t get the luxury of paid leave or the ability to work from home, and it’s highly unlikely my customers would come round my house to buy a car even if I wanted them to. A journey to work is very necessary indeed. Also necessary, is a late night drive out to the local kebab shop should I decide I need a snack. Or two. As the storm gathered momentum over both the Atlantic Ocean and sky news HQ, it was decided that as a precautionary measure the entire train system serving Europe’s biggest city was to be shut down and flights in and out of London were to be cancelled or delayed. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that people were arriving into Heathrow from parts of the world that are regularly affected by severe storms that devastate entire regions, completely bewildered as to why a metro system that runs primarily underground can’t operate.
Mondays storm was, however, strong enough to cause loss of life and destruction which is of course a tragedy for all of those involved and I suppose that given the the degree of damage that we were led to believe would happen, the loss of life and damage was much lower than expected. And maybe this is the point. The naming of a storm gives it an identity and therefore an additional resonance, and the announcement that the government was to chair an emergency cobra meeting served only to heighten expectations of the expectant carnage to come. David Cameron, we were informed, would be being briefed and updated through the night. Indecently, I can’t tell you how disappointed I was to recently discover that far from being a James Bond style top level secret committee, cobra is simply the name given to the room that the meeting takes place in. C abinet O ffice B riefing R oom A. How mundane is that! Back to Monday morning though, and the only thing that was building and developing more quickly that the storm itself, were the 24 hour news broadcasters who were falling over themselves -quite literally in some cases- to present us with ever more woe inducing pieces to camera about what precautions we should take to survive it. Sky news suggested that we should all make sure our phones were fully charged and that we gather together a torch and a first aid kit which is all excellent advice. I certainly wouldn’t want to find that a large oak tree had fallen on my house and be without a few plasters or some salon. I was a little unsure of the recommendation of obtaining a chainsaw. In a world where we can be arrested for carrying anything sharper than a sausage, it’s hardly advisable to encourage the purchase of these things especially in the run up to Halloween. A Sky news outside broadcast team were sent to Brighton beach to demonstrate the power of the waves as the storm “slammed” into the south coast but instead of 30 foot high waves and the sight of water crashing over the pier, they were greeted by the sight of swimmers taking an early morning dip with a cloudless blue sky behind them. The most entertaining moment of the broadcast though was watching one of their cameramen falling into the water after being floored by a particularly aggressive 3 foot wave which appeared from out of the blue.The BBC, who were not much better but still a little sensationalistic, chose to interview a self styled “disaster recovery expert” who gave some great advice about how to clear fallen trees. Cheers fella. While all this was going on, a quick flick through the channels over to CNN showed live coverage from Australia where hundreds of homes were being destroyed by a fire which was engulfing hundreds of square miles of forest. Time for a sense of proportion then wouldn’t you say.
So with weather presenters and news reporters all trying to out serious each other their way to a bafta, where does that leave us? Well so far this year we have had warnings to stay in when it snowed, warnings to stay in when it’s been too hot and warnings to stay in when it’s too windy. What next? Warnings to stay in when it rains? If we haven’t yet already reached the point where we say enough is enough then we will surely soon do so. Like in the fable of the boy who cried wolf, we are getting so used to being bombarded with extreme weather warnings which turn out to nothing more than damp squibs, that one day the big one will arrive and we’ll not have heeded the warnings. In a country where the climate is temperate and the chances of getting killed or hurt by the weather is small, we are getting led blindfolded into believing that a relatively harmless batch of weather is a life changing event when for 99% it isn’t. And then one day when hurricane darth does arrive,we’ll be less protected than ever.