European windstorm

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Storm Gloria in the North Atlantic Ocean on 17 January 2020 Gloria 2020-01-17 1350Z.jpg
Storm Gloria in the North Atlantic Ocean on 17 January 2020

European windstorms are powerful extratropical cyclones which form as cyclonic windstorms associated with areas of low atmospheric pressure. They can occur throughout the year, but are most frequent between October and March, with peak intensity in the winter months. [1] Deep areas of low pressure are common over the North Atlantic, and occasionally start as nor'easters off the New England coast. They frequently track across the North Atlantic Ocean towards the north of Scotland and into the Norwegian Sea, which generally minimizes the impact to inland areas; however, if the track is further south, it may cause adverse weather conditions across Central Europe, Northern Europe and especially Western Europe. The countries most commonly affected include the United Kingdom, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, the Faroe Islands and Iceland. [2]


The strong wind phenomena intrinsic to European windstorms, that give rise to "damage footprints" at the surface, can be placed into three categories, namely the "warm jet", the "cold jet" and the "sting jet". These phenomena vary in terms of physical mechanisms, atmospheric structure, spatial extent, duration, severity level, predictability and location relative to cyclone and fronts. [3]

On average, these storms cause economic damage of around €1.9 billion per year and insurance losses of €1.4 billion per year (1990–1998). They cause the highest amount of natural catastrophe insurance loss in Europe. [4]


North Atlantic Oscillation

Conceptual model for a European Windstorm and the associated strong wind "footprints". Note that storm track, footprint locations and footprint sizes vary by case, and that all footprints are not always present. European Windstorm Conceptual Model.jpg
Conceptual model for a European Windstorm and the associated strong wind "footprints". Note that storm track, footprint locations and footprint sizes vary by case, and that all footprints are not always present.

The state of the North Atlantic Oscillation relates strongly to the frequency, intensity, and tracks of European windstorms. [5] An enhanced number of storms have been noted over the North Atlantic region during positive NAO phases (compared to negative NAO phases) and is due to larger areas of suitable growth conditions. The occurrence of extreme North Atlantic cyclones is aligned with the NAO state during the cyclones' development phase. [6] The strongest storms are embedded within, and form in large scale atmospheric flow. [7] It should be kept in mind that, on the other hand, the cyclones themselves play a major role in steering the NAO phase. [6] Aggregate European windstorm losses show a strong dependence on NAO, [8] with losses increasing/decreasing 10-15% at all return periods. [8]


Temporal clustering of windstorm events has also been noted, with eight consecutive storms hitting Europe during the winter of 1989/90. Cyclone Lothar and Martin in 1999 were separated by only 36 hours. Cyclone Kyrill in 2007 followed only four days after Cyclone Per. [9] [10] In November 2011, Cyclone Berit moved across Northern Europe, and just a day later another storm, named Yoda, hit the same area.


Naming of individual storms

Up to the second half of the 19th century, European windstorms were named after the person who spotted them.[ citation needed ] Usually, they would be named either by the year, the date, the Saint's day of their occurrence [11] or any other way that made them commonly known.

However, a storm may still be named differently in different countries. For instance, the Norwegian weather service also names independently notable storms that affect Norway, [12] which can result in multiple names being used in different countries they affect, such as:

An alternative Scottish naming system arose in 2011 via social media/Twitter which resulted in the humorous naming of Hurricane Bawbag [13] [14] [15] and Hurricane Fannybaws. Such usage of the term Hurricane is not without precedent, as the 1968 Scotland storm was referred to as "Hurricane Low Q". [16]

UK and Ireland

2015 list of storm names from UK Met Office and Met Eireann Nameourstorms-names.jpg
2015 list of storm names from UK Met Office and Met Éireann

The UK Met Office and Ireland's Met Éireann held discussions about developing a common naming system for Atlantic storms. [17] [18] In 2015 a pilot project by the two forecasters was launched as "Name our storms" which sought public participation in naming large-scale cyclonic windstorms affecting the UK and/or Ireland over the winter of 2015/16. [19] [20] The UK/Ireland storm naming system began its first operational season in 2015/2016, with Storm Abigail. [21] An independent forecaster, the European Windstorm Centre, also has its own naming list, although this is not an official list. [22]


During 1954, Karla Wege, a student at the Free University of Berlin's meteorological institute suggested that names should be assigned to all areas of low and high pressure that influenced the weather of Central Europe. [23] The university subsequently started to name every area of high or low pressure within its weather forecasts, from a list of 260 male and 260 female names submitted by its students. [23] [24] The female names were assigned to areas of low pressure while male names were assigned to areas of high pressure. [23] [24] The names were subsequently exclusively used by Berlin's media until February 1990, after which the German media started to commonly use the names, however, they were not officially approved by the German Meteorological Service Deutscher Wetterdienst. [23] [25] The DWD subsequently banned the usage of the names by their offices during July 1991, after complaints had poured in about the naming system. [24] However, the order was leaked to the German press agency, Deutsche Presse-Agentur, who ran it as its lead weather story. [24] Germany's ZDF television channel subsequently ran a phone in poll on 17 July 1991 and claimed that 72% of the 40,000 responses favored keeping the names. [24] This made the DWD pause and think about the naming system and these days the DWD accept the naming system and request that it is maintained. [24] [25]

During 1998 a debate started about if it was discrimination to name areas of high pressure with male names and the areas of low pressure with female names. [23] The issue was subsequently resolved by alternating male and female names each year. [23] In November 2002 the "Adopt-a-Vortex" scheme began, which allows members of the public or companies to buy naming rights for a letter chosen by the buyer that are then assigned alphabetically to high and low pressure areas in Europe during each year. [26] The naming comes with the slim chance that the system will be notable. The money raised by this is used by the meteorology department to maintain weather observations at the Free University. [27]

Name of phenomena

Satellite picture of Cyclone Ulli on January 3 2012 Ulli January 3 2012.png
Satellite picture of Cyclone Ulli on January 3 2012

Several European languages use cognates of the word huracán (ouragan, uragano, orkan, huragan, orkaan, ураган, which may or may not be differentiated from tropical hurricanes in these languages) to indicate particularly strong cyclonic winds occurring in Europe. The term hurricane as applied to these storms is not in reference to the structurally different tropical cyclone of the same name, but to the hurricane strength of the wind on the Beaufort scale (winds ≥ 118 km/h or ≥ 73 mph).

In English, use of term hurricane to refer to European windstorms is mostly discouraged, as these storms do not display the structure of tropical storms. Likewise the use of the French term ouragan is similarly discouraged as hurricane is in English, as it is typically reserved for tropical storms only. [28] [29] European windstorms in Latin Europe are generally referred to by derivatives of tempestas (tempest, tempête, tempestado, tempesta), meaning storm, weather, or season, from the Latin tempus, meaning time. [30]

Globally storms of this type forming between 30° and 60° latitude are known as extratropical cyclones. The name European windstorm reflects that these storms in Europe are primarily notable for their strong winds and associated damage, which can span several nations on the continent. The strongest cyclones are called windstorms within academia and the insurance industry. [2] The name European windstorm has not been adopted by the UK Met Office in broadcasts (though it is used in their academic research [31] ), the media or by the general public, and appears to have gained currency in academic and insurance circles as a linguistic and terminologically neutral name for the phenomena.

In contrast to some other European nations there is a lack of a widely accepted name for these storms in English. The Met Office and UK media generally refer to these storms as severe gales. [32] The current definition of severe gales (which warrants the issue of a weather warning) are repeated gusts of 70 mph (110 km/h) or more over inland areas. [32] European windstorms are also described in forecasts variously as winter storms, [33] winter lows, autumnal lows, Atlantic lows and cyclonic systems.[ citation needed ] They are also sometimes referred to as bullseye isobars and dartboard lows in reference to their appearance on weather charts.[ citation needed ] A Royal Society exhibition has used the name European cyclones, [34] with North-Atlantic cyclone and North-Atlantic windstorms also being used. [2] Though with the advent of the "Name our Storms" project, they are generally known as storms.

Economic impact

A fictitious synoptic chart of an extratropical cyclone affecting Great Britain & Ireland. The blue and red arrows between isobars indicate the direction of the wind and its relative temperature, while the "L" symbol denotes the center of the "low". Note the occluded cold and warm frontal boundaries. Uk-cyclone-2.png
A fictitious synoptic chart of an extratropical cyclone affecting Great Britain & Ireland. The blue and red arrows between isobars indicate the direction of the wind and its relative temperature, while the "L" symbol denotes the center of the "low". Note the occluded cold and warm frontal boundaries.

Insurance losses

Insurance losses from windstorms are the second greatest source of loss for any natural peril after Atlantic hurricanes in the United States. [35] Windstorm losses exceed those caused by flooding in Europe. For instance one windstorm, Kyrill in 2007, exceeded the losses of the 2007 United Kingdom floods. [36] On average, some 200,000 buildings are damaged by high winds in the UK every year. [37]

Damaged pylon in Germany after Windstorm Kyrill 2007 Strommast.JPG
Damaged pylon in Germany after Windstorm Kyrill 2007

Energy supplies

European windstorms wipe out electrical generation capacity across large areas, making supplementation from abroad difficult (windturbines shut down to avoid damage and nuclear capacity may shut if cooling water is contaminated or flooding of the power plant occurs). Transmission capabilities can also be severely limited if power lines are brought down by snow, ice or high winds. In the wake of Cyclone Gudrun in 2005 Denmark and Latvia had difficulty importing electricity, [38] and Sweden lost 25% of its total power capacity as the Ringhals Nuclear Power Plant and Barsebäck nuclear power plant nuclear plants were shut down. [39]

During the Boxing Day Storm of 1998 the reactors at Hunterston B nuclear power station were shut down when power was lost, possibly due to arcing at pylons caused by salt spray from the sea. [40] When the grid connection was restored, the generators that had powered the station during the blackout were shut down and left on "manual start", so when the power failed again the station was powered by batteries for a short time of around 30 minutes, until the diesel generators were started manually. [40] During this period the reactors were left without forced cooling, in a similar fashion to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, but the event at Hunterston was rated as International Nuclear Event Scale 2. [40] [41]

A year later in 1999 during the Lothar storm Flooding at the Blayais Nuclear Power Plant resulted in a "level 2" event on the International Nuclear Event Scale. [42] Cyclone Lothar and Martin in 1999 left 3.4 million customers in France without electricity, and forced EdF to acquire all the available portable power generators in Europe, with some even being brought in from Canada. [39] These storms brought a fourth of France's high-tension transmission lines down and 300 high-voltage transmission pylons were toppled. It was one of the greatest energy disruptions ever experienced by a modern developed country. [43]

Following the Great Storm of 1987 the High Voltage Cross-Channel Link between the UK and France was interrupted, and the storm caused a domino-effect of power outages throughout the Southeast of England. [44] Conversely windstorms can produce too much wind power. Cyclone Xynthia hit Europe in 2010, generating 19000 megawatts of electricity from Germany's 21000 wind turbines. The electricity produced was too much for consumers to use, and prices on the European Energy Exchange in Leipzig plummeted, which resulted in the grid operators having to pay over 18 euros per megawatt-hour to offload it, costing around half a million euros in total. [45]

Disruption of the gas supply during Cyclone Dagmar in 2011 left Royal Dutch Shell's Ormen Lange gas processing plant in Norway inoperable after its electricity was cut off by the storm. This left gas supplies in the United Kingdom vulnerable as this facility can supply up to 20 percent of the United Kingdom's needs via the Langeled pipeline. However, the disruption came at a time of low demand. [46] The same storm also saw the Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant also affected, as algae and mud stirred up by the storm were sucked into the cooling system, resulting in one of the generators being shut down. [47] [48] A similar situation was reported in the wake of Storm Angus in 2016 (though not linked specifically to the storm) when reactor 1 at Torness Nuclear Power Station in Scotland was taken offline after a sea water intake tripped due to excess seaweed around the inlet. [49] Also following Storm Angus the UK's National Grid launched an investigation into whether a ship's anchor damaged four of the eight cables of the Cross Channel high voltage interconnector, which would leave it only able to operate at half of its capacity until February 2017. [50]

Notable windstorms

Historic windstorms

Contemporary picture of the flood that struck the North Sea coast of Germany and Denmark in October 1634. Erschrecklichewasserfluth.jpg
Contemporary picture of the flood that struck the North Sea coast of Germany and Denmark in October 1634.

Severe storms since 1950

Most intense storms

Most intense extratropical cyclones in the North Atlantic
RankDateNameMinimum pressure [57] Reported location
1January 1993 Braer Storm 912 hectopascals (26.9 inHg)Between Iceland and Great Britain
2December 1986Unnamed916 hectopascals (27.0 inHg)South-east of Greenland
3December 1989Unnamed920 hectopascals (27 inHg)South-west of Iceland
February 2020 Storm Dennis South of Iceland
4February 1870Unnamed921.1 hectopascals (27.20 inHg)South-west of Iceland
5February 1824Unnamed924 hectopascals (27.3 inHg) Reykjavik, Iceland
7December 1929Unnamed925.5 hectopascals (27.33 inHg) Atlantic Ocean
8January 1884Unnamed925.6 hectopascals (27.33 inHg) Ochtertyre, Great Britain
9March 1992Unnamed926 hectopascals (27.3 inHg)Off Newfoundland
10December 2013Storm Dirk927 hectopascals (27.4 inHg)North-west of Great Britain [58]
December 1945UnnamedBetween Ireland and Iceland

See also

European windstorm seasons

Related Research Articles

Burns Day Storm 1990 January storm in Northwestern Europe

The Burns' Day Storm was an extremely violent windstorm that took place on 25–26 January 1990 over north-western Europe. It is one of the strongest European windstorms on record. This storm has received different names as there is no official list of such events in Europe. Starting on the birthday of Scottish poet Robert Burns, it caused widespread damage and hurricane-force winds over a wide area. The storm was responsible for 47 deaths, although figures have ranged from 89 to over 100 across Europe.

Cyclones Lothar and Martin severe weather events in Europe December 1999

Lothar and Martin were violent European windstorms which swept across western and central Europe during a period of 36 hours in December 1999. The storms caused major damage in France, southern Germany, Switzerland, and Italy. Throughout the affected region, 140 people were killed and damage was estimated at €9.9 billion. Both of these storms were associated with an intense jet stream aloft and benefitted from latent heat release through atmosphere-ocean exchange processes. Lothar and Martin together left 3.4 million customers in France without electricity, and forced EdF to acquire all the available portable power generators in Europe, with some even being brought in from Canada. These storms brought down a quarter of France's high-tension transmission lines and 300 high-voltage transmission pylons were toppled. It was one of the greatest energy disruptions ever experienced by a modern developed country.

Severe weather any dangerous meteorological phenomena with the potential to cause damage, serious social disruption, or loss of human life

Severe weather refers to any dangerous meteorological phenomena with the potential to cause damage, serious social disruption, or loss of human life. Types of severe weather phenomena vary, depending on the latitude, altitude, topography, and atmospheric conditions. High winds, hail, excessive precipitation, and wildfires are forms and effects of severe weather, as are thunderstorms, downbursts, tornadoes, waterspouts, tropical cyclones, and extratropical cyclones. Regional and seasonal severe weather phenomena include blizzards (snowstorms), ice storms, and duststorms.

Cyclone Friedhelm storm in Scotland in 2011

Cyclone Friedhelm, was an intense extratropical cyclone which brought hurricane-force winds to Scotland at the beginning of December 2011. The storm also brought prolonged gales and rough seas to the rest of the British Isles, as well as parts of Scandinavia. On 8 December, winds reached up to 165 mph (266 km/h) at elevated areas, with sustained wind speeds of up to 80 mph (130 km/h) reported across populous areas. The winds uprooted trees and resulted in the closure of many roads, bridges, schools and businesses. Overall, the storm was the worst to affect Scotland in 10 years, though a stronger storm occurred less than a month afterwards, on 3 January 2012. Although the follow-up storm was more intense, the winter of 2011–12 is usually remembered for Bawbag among Scots.

Cyclone Hergen

Cyclone Hergen was an intense European windstorm that moved across Northern Europe during mid December 2011. It was first noted over the central North Atlantic Ocean by the Met Office. It then later reached peak intensity just northwest of Ireland and then crossed the north of Scotland hours later. It hung around the coast of Norway for the next week before being absorbed by another strong windstorm named Joachim.

Cyclone Ulli

Cyclone Ulli was an intense and deadly European windstorm. Forming on December 31, 2011 off the coast of New Jersey, Ulli began a rapid strengthening phase on January 2 as it sped across the Atlantic. Ulli was the costliest disaster in January 2012 globally. The damage from the storm in Glasgow was also compared to a storm in 1968.

Cyclone Andrea cyclone

Cyclone Andrea was an intense European windstorm that affected western and central Europe in early January 2012.

Gale of January 1976 An extratropical cyclone and storm surge which occurred over January 1976

The Gale of January 1976, widely known as the "Capella" storm in Germany and the Ruisbroek flood in Belgium, was one in a series of extratropical cyclones and storm surges, which occurred over January 1976. The gale of 2–5 January resulted in severe wind damage across western and central Europe and coastal flooding around the southern North Sea coasts. At the time, this was the most severe storm of the century to date over the British Isles. Total fatalities reached 82 across Europe, although a figure of 100 is given by the World Meteorological Organization. Of these 24 were reported in Britain and 4 in Ireland. Overall losses of US$1.3 billion were incurred, with insured losses standing at US$500 million (1976).

Cyclone Jeanett

Storm Jeanett was a strong extratropical cyclone and European windstorm which affected much of northwest Europe on 27–28 October 2002. The storm brought strong winds and heavy rainfall, with wind speeds reaching up to 180 km/h uprooting trees, smashing cars and damaging buildings. The storm was responsible for a total of 33 deaths across Europe, including Britain, the Netherlands, France, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Poland, Switzerland and Sweden. The majority of the fatalities were caused by falling trees.

Cyclone Dirk European windstorm in 2013

Cyclone Dirk was a large and deep European windstorm that affected Western Europe from the Iberian Peninsula to Iceland from 22 December 2013.

The 2015–16 UK and Ireland windstorm season was the first instance of the United Kingdom's Met Office and Ireland's Met Éireann naming extratropical cyclones. The season started on 10 November with the naming of Storm Abigail and ended on 28 March with the dissipation of Storm Katie. With a total of eleven named storms, the 2015–16 season is the most active to date.

Cyclone Tini

Cyclone Tini was a European windstorm that affected Western Europe, particularly Ireland and the United Kingdom on 12 February 2014. The storm brought hurricane-force winds to Ireland and the UK with the Met Office and Met Éireann describing the storm as one of the most significant to affect Ireland, Wales and North West England in recent decades. Tini was one of the strongest storms of the 2013–2014 Atlantic winter storms in Europe, and also brought heavy rain across the UK and Ireland exacerbating the 2013–2014 United Kingdom winter floods, and may have been the most damaging storm of the period.

The 2016–17 UK and Ireland windstorm season was the second instance of the United Kingdom's Met Office and Ireland's Met Éireann naming extratropical cyclones. Substantially less active than the previous season, the season succeeded the 2015–16 UK and Ireland windstorm season and preceded the 2017–18 European windstorm season.

The 2017–18 European windstorm season was the third instance of seasonal European windstorm naming. France, Spain and Portugal took part in winter storm naming for the first time this season.

Hurricane Ophelia (2017) Category 3 Atlantic hurricane in 2017

Hurricane Ophelia was regarded as the worst storm to affect Ireland in 50 years, and was also the easternmost Atlantic major hurricane on record. The tenth and final consecutive hurricane and the sixth major hurricane of the very active 2017 Atlantic hurricane season, Ophelia had non-tropical origins from a decaying cold front on 6 October. Located within a favorable environment, the storm steadily strengthened over the next two days, drifting north and then southeastwards before becoming a hurricane on 11 October. After becoming a Category 2 hurricane and fluctuating in intensity for a day, Ophelia intensified into a major hurricane on 14 October south of the Azores, brushing the archipelago with high winds and heavy rainfall. Shortly after achieving peak intensity, Ophelia began weakening as it accelerated over progressively colder waters to its northeast towards Ireland and Great Britain. Completing an extratropical transition early on 16 October, Ophelia became the second storm of the 2017–18 European windstorm season. Early on 17 October, the cyclone crossed the North Sea and struck western Norway, with wind gusts up to 70 kilometres per hour (43 mph) in Rogaland county, before weakening during the evening of 17 October. The system then moved across Scandinavia, before dissipating over Norway on the next day.

Cyclone Egon

Cyclone Egon was a European windstorm that affected the north of France, Belgium and Germany during the night of Thursday 12 to Friday 13 January 2017. It caused three deaths, widespread power outages, and wind damage and significant snowfall, primarily France and Germany, but also in the Benelux states, Austria and Switzerland.

Storm David storm in Europe in January 2018

Storm David was a compact but deadly European windstorm that heavily affected the British Isles, France, Benelux, Central Europe, Northern Italy, Poland and parts of Eastern Europe in early 2018 with widespread hurricane-force gusts and severe snowfall, creating blizzard conditions in some areas. The storm caused extensive damage and traffic disruption. It was given the name David by Météo France while the FUB named it Friederike.

The 2018–19 European windstorm season was the fourth instance of seasonal European windstorm naming in Europe. Most storms form between September and March. The first named storm, Ali, affected primarily the United Kingdom and Ireland on 19 September 2018.

Storm Ciara Extratropical cyclone which caused severe damage to Europe in February 2020, with 13 fatalities

Storm Ciara, was a powerful and long-lived extratropical cyclone that was the first of a pair of European windstorms to impact the United Kingdom and Ireland at peak intensity less than a week apart, followed later by Storm Dennis. Ciara caused widespread wind and flooding damage across Europe, and at least 13 fatalities.

Storm Dennis Extratropical cyclone in February 2020 that became one of the most intense ever recorded

Storm Dennis was a European windstorm which, in February 2020, became one of the most intense extratropical cyclones ever recorded, reaching a minimum central pressure of 920 millibars. The thirteenth named storm of the 2019–20 European windstorm season, Dennis affected the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom less than a week after Storm Ciara, exacerbating the impacts from that storm amidst ongoing flooding in the latter country.


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