Stormy Weather

Yesterday, I was reading in the news about the winter storm in Europe that had killed over 50 people in France and had brought flooding and hurricane-force winds to parts of the continent. The storm was named "Xynthia," which I thought was kind of strange. "They're already on their X storm?" I wondered.

Well, I was curious, so I did a little research to find out how they name their storms in Europe. It turns out that in Europe, every high and low pressure system gets a name. It's not like the names given to tropical storms, where they have to reach a sustained wind speed of at least 39 miles per hour before they get a name. This year, the low pressure systems are being given women's names and the high pressure systems are being given men's names. This alternates from year to year.

Not just that, but the Free University in Berlin, which monitors and names the systems, sells the naming rights to them at the beginning of the year through its "adopt-a-vortex" program. They go through the alphabet about three or four times per year. I'm not sure how much it costs to buy your own storm. Here is the list for the 2010 low pressure systems. Note that names can be reused multiple times in the same year, unless they are attached to a storm that is so destructive that the name is retired, as they do with hurricane names on occasion.

If you look at it, you'll notice that the name list has a definite Teutonic flavor. (The men's list is heavy on Gerhards and Karlheinzes as well.) Several women purchased the naming rights and named the storms after themselves. I'm guessing the men who bought the names on this list were doing it for their wives or girlfriends. That begs the question: Is it a compliment to name something windy and potentially lethal after your wife/girlfriend, or is it an insult? It could be taken either way. One wonders what Xynthia's feelings are about having her name attached to such a destructive event. It's not her fault, of course. Blame it on Wolfgang.