British storms

In a fit of jealousy that other countries get all the attention for their hurricanes, the Met has started naming lower-grade storms. That’s kind of like being jealous of your sister because she got all the attention what with that polio she had, but you know what humans are like. We’re a difficult species.

But before I go on, a note about the Met. There are two of them: One deals with weather and the other deals with London policing. How does anyone know which is which? Context. That’s the same answer you get when you ask how anyone knows if a speaker just said “there,” “they’re,” or “their.” Or “there, there, there.”

This indicates that living with the English language has made everyone so crazy that a succession of governments hasn’t seen any reason not to call two major governmental bodies by the same nickname. Every so often, someone mixes the Met up with the Met and tries to arrest a storm, but it doesn’t happen often.

I’ll be talking here about the Met that deals with weather. I haven’t been arrested in London yet, but if I am, I’ll tell you everything I learn about the other Met.

Irrelevant photo:

Irrelevant photo: Winter jasmine

Storm Doris hit us last week, just before my last post about the weather went live. A better blogger would’ve rushed in to update the post, but me? I made a couple of mental notes, then I made apple bread. It was a good day to be indoors. I like apples.

I did walk the dogs, and the wind was high enough to make my cheeks flap like rubber. That’s not a scientific measurement, since it’ll happen at a lower and lower velocities the older I get and the rubberier my cheeks get, but it is an indication of a high wind. If you need another measurement, local blogger Bear Humphries wrote on Facebook, “High winds—well, 60-70mph ish—meant loads of pictures on Twitter showing blown over wheelie bins with the words ‘Carnage here.’”

It was carnage. Our empty compost bin blew over.

If you look at the photos the BBC posted, you’ll learn that a barely measureable snowfall slowed traffic to a crawl somewhere north of us (almost the whole country is north of us; the snow may have been heavier north of where the photo was taken, but it may not have been), that trees fell, that waves smashed against breakwaters in the most scenic possible way, and that in the City, which is London’s financial district, a man’s tie was blown to the left—which is to the right in the picture since the photographer was facing him.

It was a blue tie. That may be significant.

If you try the Guardian, you’ll find pictures of women’s hair going feral, cars flipping over, more cars pancaked under trees, trucks jackknifing, and King’s Cross train station turned into a storage area for spare humans, all of whom were stashed in an upright position.

Al Jazeera shows a gritting lorry—translation: a truck that spreads a sand and salt mixture—on its side after a skid. That was in Scotland and it must’ve been embarrassing.

on more than one of those sites, you’ll find pictures of umbrellas trying to devour humans, who are doing their best to hold them off. Why do people take umbrellas out into high winds when they must know it’ll aggravate them? Is the umbrella a fashion statement or something?

Remind me, someone: What is a fashion statement?

But we were talking about Doris: Ferries and flights were canceled. Train travel was disrupted, as train travel always is when the country experiences weather. Any sort of weather, including good. The standing joke when a train’s delayed is that there were leaves on the line, which was genuinely given as an excuse once, although whoever said it said not just that there were leaves on the line but that they were the wrong kind of leaves. Which either makes it better or worse but I don’t think anyone’s been able to figure out which.

The Met classified the storm as a weather bomb, and gusts reached 94 miles per hour in Wales. Unless you turn to other sources, in which case they reached 100 kilometers per hour. Or according to other sources 100 miles per hour. A kilometer’s .62 miles, making 100 kph and 100 mph very different beasts–say a Maine coon cat and a lion.

Anyway, you can take your choice of both wind speeds and measuring systems, because it’s mix and match day here at Weather Station Hawley.

Why do some places report wind speeds in kilometers per hour and others in another in miles per hour, while a few others report them both ways? Because Britain in only intermittently metric. When it grows up it will have to commit itself to one system or the other, but for the moment, folks, give it some space to experiment. It’s just a phase. I’m hoping that if we don’t make an issue of this the country won’t either. Because we’re going to be leaving the E.U. soon, and if we don’t handle this carefully we may go back to measuring in cubits and barleycorns and firkins.

122 thoughts on “British storms

  1. Ah, leaves on the line (railway track). In fact, it is a genuine problem. Typical British autumn weather is at some point very wet – often just as the leaves have fallen from the trees. Wet leaves and trains don’t get on at all well together. The leaves land on the track and become very wet when rained on. That makes them nice and soft. The train wheels run over the leaves and crush them into a mushy paste. Said paste sticks firmly to the wheels and the rails and causes the wheels to slide on the track. This dramatically reduces the braking ability of the trains, which means they have to keep their speed down – not a good thing on busy commuter lines that are running at capacity line-loading in the rush hour. Even worse, if a train brakes too hard on leaf-slushy track, the wheels lock and slide on the rails, which wears falt spots into the wheels. The wheels then have to be replaced at great cost, and naturally the train has to be taken out of service while its done, hence train cancellations and delays when there are leaves on the line.

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    • My response is colored by Wild Things, who grew up in a railroad family and never heard of leaves being a problem. Snow could be, but not until it was measured in feet instead of inches. Admittedly, they lived in a desert, but the Santa Fe didn’t run entirely through desert. I’ll have to ask her what she knows about that.

      Heat also seems to be a problem here, although the U.S. lines had to cope with higher temperatures and don’t seem to have had a problem with it.

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      • I don’t suppose you don’t really get many mushy leaves in the dessert.

        I think mushy leaves were less of a problem when trains were locomotive-hauled and had old-style brakes: big curved metal shoes that clamped onto the rims of the wheels to stop the loco – these helped to scrape the gunk off the wheels. Modern trains use disc (disk) brakes, just like cars. These clamp onto the sides of the wheel, not the rims, so there’s nothing to remove the leafy mush and the train is therefore running on a cushion of slippery gunk rather than metal. Also older-style trains had sanding gear to increase traction between the loco wheels and the track. Not so on modern trains, unfortunately.

        The heat problem is to do with continuous welded rail. It’s certainly hot in the dessert, and the rails expand accordingly, but I bet the rails are relatively short lengths with fair gaps between them to take up the expansion. However, gappy rails mean a poorer ride and lower maximum speeds. That’s ok for freight trains running cross continent through the dessert. But for decent high speed passenger services you need continuous welded rail – long, long welded lengths of steel clamped firmly to the trackbed to keep them rigid. The trade off, as usual, is about cost of installation versus cost of maintenance. I guess the original engineering design assumed summer temperatures wouldn’t be that high for that long, so keeping the installation cost down. But now with climate change, we get hotter summers in the UK (honestly, we do!), and some of the older sections of continuous welded rail probably don’t cope too well with this.

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        • Thanks for that. I read your comment to Wild Thing just now about leaves on the line (she wasn’t around when I wrote my earlier answer) and she says, “Makes sense.” But she also swears that the U.S. railway system does (or at least did, since her sources of information are long gone) more track maintenance, which made a huge difference. The U.S. trains were able to run at good speeds (sorry, can’t quote you statistics on that), in spite of the gaps they left for the rails to expand. I remember seeing the rails bending like steel spaghetti over empty space when a storm undermined the tracks at Dawlish a while back and being struck by what a long section of rail that was. It’s nice to have someone who knows what he’s talking about confirm my theory that it explains the problems the British system has with hot weather.

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  2. “I do not understand fasion it is vague and fickle!”
    I think that is a fasion statement…or possibly a statement about fasion which may or may not be the same thing…

    I had to lift my bike over a fallen tree and some planks had fallen over from where they had been leaned against the garage… that was extent of my involvement with storm Doris…

    that and quite a few conversations and me refusing to belive that anyone had called a storm Doris because it seemed idiculous…

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  3. I’ve heard that we name storms in the US because it makes people believe the warning more. Apparently, if we say “a big storm is coming, with much rain and damaging winds” people think “meh” and go about their business. But, if we say “Storm Doris is coming” people line up in droves to buy bread and milk.

    I’ll have to check on the leaves on the line thing with my British railway source. Not that John isn’t reliable, but when you have a source, you should use it.

    Thanks again for helping my Friday start off in a fun direction

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ellen, I wish that I would have found your blog sooner. I so enjoy your witty humor, especially about a place so very different from my corner of the USA. You make me laugh, and that is much needed lately for me. Thanks :)

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    • Thanks for that. We do all need a laugh these days. Some weeks it’s harder than others to find something that sets one off. Although that last sentence of mine does give me a quiet giggle. I put it together four different ways and it’s still awkward.

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  5. I saw somewhere online a few days ago that the Met had started naming storms – I thought gee, they are copying The Weather Channel? I’ve never been to the UK, but it seems the weather there isn’t nearly as harsh as what our Plains and Midwest get slammed with almost constantly. Meanwhile here in Las Vegas, it’s usually sunny and just plain old nice.

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  6. Because I was mentioned, I tried to press ‘Like’ twice. It didn’t work.
    Doris was actually my Nan’s name, really. An earlier storm this year was called Barbara, I had an aunt called that. In terms of relating to storms because they have a name I don’t normally give a monkeys but in terms of relations with storm names they’re doing well for me. I don’t know of anyone in the family called Ewan, Fleur or any of the rest of the 2017 list though, so that’ll be the end of it this year and I’ll obviously take no more notice of a bit of wind.

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  7. We are such an embarrassment when it comes to complaining about the weather in the UK – well England to be precise, Scotland are a hardier bunch. Three flakes of snow and the country grinds to a halt as we are never prepared. And if I hear one more person complain ‘it’s cold isn’t it’ .. yes that’s because it’s WINTER, put another cardigan on!!!!

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    • “Put another layer on” is, as far as I can tell (and remember, I’m from New York), what Minnesota parents–and for some reason, especially fathers–tell their kids when they complain that the house is cold.

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  8. I was watching Twister when I read this, which did make the whole thing even funnier and as I speak it has been snowing for 24 hours here, so I do understand the American confusion over the British approach to weather. It seems to me we like to be flustered by unimportant things (2 inches of snow, the difference between soup and desert spoons) and then be terribly stoic about big things (WW2 for example) or maybe the youth of today are just less stoic in general?
    On the subject of fashion, my husband got his haircut by a stylist over the weekend (there’s a whole separate conversation right there) his daughter, who accompanied him, since I was home feeling unwell and not being stoic about it, came back with the stunning news that said stylist was wearing *two* statement necklaces, following it with the question “how much of a statement can any one person want to make?” We are still pondering and I wish I had missed it.

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  9. Try not to be arrested in London….the police there are not that which they were.
    When we were demonstrating and picketing the hard nuts of ‘C’ Division would always give you your shoes back if you lost them in the push and shove amidst calls for Cinderella to come forward…these days the swine are more likely to claim that your shoes are an offensive weapon.

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  10. I was living in East Anglia somewhere–next to a pig farm actually–and they had the big storm that blew down one third of the trees in the country. That was impressive, but I never took a single photo. Who wants to see fallen down trees?

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  11. It seems I’m too late to the party to tell you it’s ‘Met Office’ not just ‘Met’ – but it’s better than its full title of Meteorological Office which I often heard it called when I was a kid on the 1950s.
    This naming of storms in the UK is ridiculous. Doris… Ewan was the last one, I think (I filled a thermos flask in case our electricity went off as it has a habit of doing in rural Wales where even a buzzard landing on a power line can disrupt things for hours, and I stopped up my ears with those handy ‘finger’ things that hands have, to block out the sound of the wind, but otherwise treated it as a normnal day and night).
    I think the Met Office are still suffering from the after effects and shame of not having properly predicted the 1987 hurricane. When that happened, I sat with my mother in my darkened kitchen (‘cos of course power was out there too), staring through my window at its fury.

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    • I appreciate people telling me about one of the Mets being the Met Office, but I’m kind of glad I didn’t know if ahead of time because it wouldn’t have been as much fun.

      Hand finger things that hands have? I need to learn more about these.

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  12. As an American, I laughed and laughed and laughed that your government agencies do the same thing ours do! Always tell us the worst thing is going to happen and then we all sit there going but what really did happen because everything said it was a different thing than the other things that it was! And if that last sentence confused you, you know you’re listening to the government give you an explanation!!! 😂

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  13. Lol. Brilliant. I think flapping cheeks should be used as a metric no? Also to be fair they weren’t BOTH named the Met but rather their truncated forms were. < (Note I even fitted in the correct 'their' in my argument!'

    Plus your writing is superb today (well as usual really):
    'you’ll find pictures of women’s hair going feral, … and King’s Cross train station turned into a storage area for spare humans, all of whom were stashed in an upright position.' – Although I'd lightly debate the 'upright' observation the later it got, coupled with the proximity to alcohol.

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  14. I think you’re right about the jealousy thing. The only thing that naming storms seems to have done is to make people afraid of a bit of wind. Sometimes you need to be afraid of a bit of wind and take some action, but mostly you don’t.

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  15. Pingback: I Had a Plan but The Train Was Late | No Facilities

    • In the U.S., at least, they used to all have women’s names, but now they alternate–one man’s name, one woman’s. I don’t know why the names were initially all female, but in its small way it reinforced a lot of sexism among kids. “Why do you think they call them her-i-canes?” seemed to be a good boy comeback to pretty much any comment from one of the girls. I was long since out of school when they changed the naming pattern, but silly as it sounds, I was relieved.

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  16. My hair almost went feral reading about Doris, so instead I concentrated on your staying home and just making apple bread, which in comparison to all that seems to have skidded, smashed and blown away was marvellously zen.

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  17. It sounds like you made it through the Storm of the Century. I am on Twitter and I do have several British friends who posted pictures of items blowing away, etc. This winter has been very unpredictable in the weather department.

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    • One story like that–effective handling of what would otherwise be a crisis–makes all the silliness involved in storm naming worthwhile. Not that I’m likely to stop laughing about the silliness, but I still think naming’s a good idea.

      And, as always, thanks for the work you do in keeping the Pit Stop running.

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