In 2014 the Met Office and its Irish counterpart hatched a wild new initiative, inspired by their friends at the US hurricane centre across the pond.
Instead of letting social media and newspaper hacks name weather systems set to wreak havoc on the mainland, they decided to get ahead of the game and give each one a familiar name, aimed at conveying the severity of the impending maelstrom and striking enough fear into the hearts of those in its path, they’d be inspired to take action.
After much deliberation, they settled on the threatening epithets of Abigail and Barney to kick things off in November 2015.
As with anything that seems ostensibly inoffensive, a mass of opinion column backlash followed the decision. Red tops grumbled it was yet another sign we were all going soft, while more liberal titles seized on some research that found storms with female names were much more likely to cause loss of life – concluding that ingrained sexism must be leading to the assumption that female storms were probably just a fuss about nothing.
For surfers purposes though, the switch has been quite marvellous. The names provide us with the opportunity to talk even more incessantly about swells ahead of their arrival, post even more hashtagged lineup shots when they’re in our midst, and hark back even harder on the specifics of exactly where we were, and what it was like when whatsername came to town.
In light of that, as we stare down the barrel of another European winter, here are five named storms that loom large and vivid in our collective memory.
Hercules- January 2014
Like the moon landing, the fall of the Berlin wall and the death of Princess Di, Hercules has very much become a flashbulb moment for the surfers of Europe. Everyone remembers where they were when it made landfall, lighting up spots from Morocco to Mullaghmore…and submerging the somerset levels.
It was also one of the last major storms to hit before Met Office took on the task of naming, allowing it to go down in history with a slightly more impactful moniker than some of the others on this list.
While the swell size broke records, it was the accompanying winds that made this one truly spectacular as far as surfers were concerned. The SSWerly baring provided relative cleanliness for sheltered- and some less sheltered- spots along the length of Europe’s Atlantic facing coastline. Spots that usually find themselves wildly blown out on a storm swell of this magnitude were brushed perfectly clean. The result was a whole slew of sessions that remain unmatched in quality to this day.
The huge spring tides that accompanied the storm meant that Hercules’ lasting legacy was a dramatic reshaping of parts of the European coastline. The swell also served as the central subject in a clip responsible for blowing out one of south-west Blighty’s better-kept secrets, but the less said about that the better.
Imogen – February 2016
Next was Imogen, who came bowling in off the Atlantic in early Feb 2016, accompanied by howling winds, and torrential rain. Unlike Hercules, she brought wind directions a little more in line with what we’d expect, seeing most Atlantic facing coastlines totally blown out. In the south-west of Britain however, a few magical little corners had their day of days, and the swell made it so far up the channel that Hampshire got a licking and it was still shoulder high by the time it hit Kent!
For those who enjoy data, she topped out at 36.4 foot at 13 seconds on the Sevenstones and for those who enjoy schadenfreude, she buried a V-dub up to the bonnet in sand in the Fistral car park, which subsequently cost the owner £326 in parking overstay charges. (We might have made that last bit up.)
Doris – February 17
Everything was going great with the Met Office and their official storm naming until Doris came and stuck a stick in the spokes in February 2017. Basically, everyone decided a looming storm was Doris, before the Met Office has officially daubed it as such. And when it arrived and didn’t meet the criteria, the organisation was left circulating all sorts of Doris-debunking press releases. It was boring at the time, to be honest, so we shant rehash the details too heavily here. Suffice to say, the Doris that wasn’t actually Doris was much more exciting for surfers than the flurry of wind, rain and a bit of snow in Scotland the Met Office eventually decided actually was Doris a few weeks later.
The wind swung from SW to NW in the middle of the day, offering the chance to score both north coast and south coast spots here in Cornwall. The cribbar was massive and clean in the morning and in the afternoon many got to witness spots working down south they’ve never seen before or since. Elsewhere, exactly what went down has been somewhat obscured in the internet archives by all the confusion over the naming. Portugal was definitely a write off, but what exactly was happening in the obscure south east facing corners of Galica remains a mystery.
Ophelia- October 2017
Ophelia is derived from the Ancient Greek for ‘HELP!’ making it perhaps the most appropriate storm name the Met Office have ever concocted. When the name finally found its weather system in Oct 17 it didn’t disappoint, becoming the biggest storm to hit Ireland in 50 years, closing schools and causing national lockdown.
It was also an excellent storm for memes across the Emerald Isle. Here are some highlights:
In mainland Europe, the fallout was far less hurricane-like, with Ophelia arriving with largely favourable winds, mostly blue skies and generally excellent waves (apart from in Estonia, where according to Wikipedia it caused black rain and no good waves at all). Supertubos pumped for the WSL event, chargers charged Nazare, Mundaka fired and various Dorset groynes produced a novelty wedge. Basically it was a magical time all around, which you can relieve, if you so desire, much more thoroughly here.
Beast From The East – March 18
One day in February 2018 we were stopped in our tracks during our regular morning insta scroll by a post from contributor and one-time guest editor Dan Crockett proclaiming that, due to an obscure weather phenomena, Blighty and Europe were about to enjoy a sustained period of non-stop offshore winds.
His psychic premonition (or meteorological acumen) played out perfectly over the following weeks, with the ensuing weather system coming to be known as the Beast from the East. Day after day saw perfectly groomed lines arrive along west facing coastlines, and for a while it looked like it may never end. Of course, there was a downside for many in the form of relentless snowstorms and freezing weather. But that didn’t stop the hardy surfers of Sweden from getting beards full of ice as they got among wind chopped one footers.
We were all very sad when it finally came to end.
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As November beckons, it looks like Brexit might be about to knock the weather of its throne as the subject of most column inches in the British news media, so we’re hoping for another dose of ‘sudden stratospheric warming’ this winter and several named storms to help redress the balance.
Assuming that happens, you could do with a good quality winter coat no? Check out a fine selection here.
More to get you in the mood for the winter ahead: