Met Office and Met Eiraeann announce storms Aileen, Hector and Octavia for 2017-2018

The meteorological bodies of the UK and Ireland, the Met Office and Met Éireann, have released the latest batch of names that will be given to the year’s most notable storms.

Similarly to the US – which frequently suffers from powerful storms and hurricanes– this naming system allows for consistent communication between the Met Offices, the media and the public about storms which are predicted to cause damage and disruption.

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The first storm of the 2017-18 season will be called Aileen, and she will be followed by Brian, Caroline, Dylan and Eleanor. There are another 16 names, although it’s worth noting that last year there were only five storms serious enough to be named.

The UK and Ireland’s naming system follows the US standard, with alternating male and female names. Each year, the gender of the first storm of the season alternates, too: Abigail was the first named storm in the UK, Angus was the first storm of 2016-17, and Aileen will be the first of 2017-18. There are also no names for the letters Q, U, X, Y or Z, again in keeping with the US system.

Gerald Fleming, Head of Forecasting at Met Éireann, said: “Last winter was a very quiet one weather-wise and we only worked our way through five named storms, from Angus to Ewan. While it is too early to say whether the coming winter will be a stormy one or a quiet one we are prepared with a whole new set of 21 names for whatever nature may throw at us.”

Why do we name storms?

This is only the third year in which storms across the UK and Ireland have been named. The UK Met Office and Ireland’s Met Éireann came together after severe storms in 2013 and 2014 to give the media and the public a uniform set of names to refer to storms.

The first set of names was introduced in the winter months of 2015-2016, and was replaced by last years’ list.

This was primarily done to help raise awareness of particularly bad storms (only storms which raise either an amber or red warning are given a name), which are believed to have medium or high impacts. This means impact from wind, but also from rain and snow.

Research jointly carried out last year by both the meteorological bodies found that awareness of storms, and the likelihood of preventative measures, increased after the introduction of naming. As such, the system is likely to continue.

Met Office, storms, storm names, 2017, 2018, aileen

How good are storms for electricity generation?

Storms often bring high wind speeds with them, and so it’s reasonable to assume that these strong winds could help to generate clean electricity.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. While storms can (and do) present high wind speeds, these are often too high for wind turbines to operate effectively. Turbines also have built-in shut-down mechanisms which stop the blades from turning in strong winds to minimise the risk of damage, such as excess wear, on the internal machinery.

Can we capture the electrical energy stored in lightning?

While possible in theory, the mechanics and infrastructure that would be necessary for this makes it prohibitively expensive.

According to estimates published in The Independent, the average lightning bolt contains 5bn joules, or 1400 kWh of electricity. The average annual electricity use in the UK is 3900 kWh, so one average lightning bolt contains the equivalent of 35% of an average household’s annual electricity consumption.

The problem is in capturing the discharge, which instantaneously transfers a huge amount of electricity, and current infrastructure cannot cope with the scale or storage of it.

Furthermore, the above figures rely on humanity’s (hypothetical) ability to capture electricity at 100% efficiency, with “zero loss in transfer and storage”. This is currently beyond the scope of human technology and ability.

Even allowing for this hypothetical 100% efficiency, however, capturing electricity from lightning would be both hugely expensive and wildly inefficient, offering only a minor contribution towards global electricity consumption.


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