Weather Blog

Ever wanted to name a weather system yourself? You can in Germany

Ever wanted to name a weather system yourself? You can in Germany

There's been a lot of talk around the U.S. lately about The Weather Channel's controversial naming of winter storms on their own, which was fresh on the heels of the debate over what to have called Superstorm Sandy.

But did you know the Germans have not only been naming storms for decades, they allow you to choose them?

Yes, if you ever wanted to name a stretch of nice weather after yourself, or perhaps saddle an incoming winter storm with the name of that P.E. teacher that made you run extra laps, the German equivalent of our National Weather Service gives you that opportunity.

The Institute for Meteorology of the Free University in Berlin, through their "Adopt A Vortex" program, sells the naming rights to both high pressure systems and low pressure systems -- and each name will then be adorned on the official weather maps that go out to the public.

The lists begin with A and go alphabetical through the year, just like we do hurricane names. Once they reach Z, the next vortex goes to a second list of names starting with A and so on.

The agency charges more for highs -- 299 Euros ($380 US) as opposed to the fee of 199 Euros (~$250 US) to name lows. That's because highs stay on the maps longer and so you get more bang for your buck (or is that "more excitement for your Euro"?)

In an average year, they go through about 50-60 high pressure names and 150-160 low pressure names. (So far in 2012, they've used 108 lows and 41 highs. Up next are "Peng" for a high and "Denise" for a low.) Once they get to a new year, the list resets to the new "A" no matter where they were on the list, but you aren't charged if your name isn't used.

To keep things simple (and equal), in one year all high pressure systems will be given male names and low pressure systems will be given female names. Then the next year, it switches and the women take the highs and the men take the lows.

Anyone in any country can purchase a name (you have to be quick, they go fast) and the only rule is that it has to be an accepted first name (no hyphenated names) and the only special character allowed is the German umlaut. A company can buy a name as long as the name is also a first name.

(Sometimes the strategy backfires. Just ask the car company "Mini" which bought the name "Cooper" for a low pressure system to go with an ad campaign for their new convertible. Unfortunately, the storm that became Cooper ended up killing dozens of Europeans in a hard freeze.)

What made them decide to name storms?

They've been naming these vortices since 1954, taking a page from the Americans when we started naming hurricanes and tropical storms. But with hurricanes not an issue for Germany, they decided to name all storms that could affect Central Europeans. They had a list of 260 names (5 lists of each male/female) that they used until 2003, when they decided to open up the name suggestions to the public.

The year before, budget cuts forced weather observations at the Free University in Berlin to just 8 hours a day. But the University had non-stop weather observations back to 1701 -- one of the longest continuous weather records in human history. Weather students there volunteered to work the other 16 hours to keep the observations going.

As their site states: "Why do students volunteer to observe the weather 16 hours a day, 7 days a week? The answer is simple: We are students of meteorology. And generally we are crazy."

But soon, donations started coming in to fund the observations, and then in 2003, the Adopt a Vortex program was born, with the proceeds going to keep the weather observations going. Today, 20 students volunteer to keep track of the weather in the off-time with help from the Vortex program.

Once your name is chosen, you'll be broadcast on all official weather maps and on TV weathercasts. And after your high or low is no longer on the map, you'll get a nice care packet with a certificate of your vortex's birth, a story about your vortex and some of the official weather maps used with your name.

What a great idea!

For More Information:

Adopt-A-Vortex Program
See list of past names used