Sometime last year I noticed that the people in charge of the weather here in the UK started naming storms.
This is not a new concept – tropical storms in places that experience serious weather have been naming their storms for many years – but the naming of UK storms immediately struck me as a bit, well…dramatic.
The UK in winter is basically a windswept and perennially wet rock perched in the North Atlantic. We get storms all the time. They are sometimes a bit wild but usually fall within a range that requires and extra jumper and an extra minute or two of polite small-talk when you get to work.
We love the weather here in the UK and are notoriously happy to base entire conversations (and even friendships) on it, but do we really need to start naming it?
I’m led to believe that naming storms makes them easier to follow on social media, which makes us more aware of them, and their inherent danger. Call me cynical, but does this not smack of the Met Office inventing ways to confirm their own importance?
If I know that the current weather I’m experiencing is called Archibald, am I less likely to be squashed by a falling tree? If a storm has a name does this mean I’m being advised to stay indoors and hide under a sturdy table until it passes?
You know what the arrival of storm Gertrude motivated me do recently?
Go for a bike ride, of course, straight into the teeth of it. With little regard for my own safety. If I hadn’t spend all weekend reading about storm Gertrude I might have thought: “hmmm, bit breezy out, might give the ride a miss today”.
But no. I decide to show the Met Office who’s boss.
Having headed out fully prepared for the 60mph headwinds I naively assumed that for 50% of the time these would be transformed into joyous and life affirming tailwinds. But no. Don’t ask me about the physics (or, more accurately, the meteorology) of this, but I estimate that tailwinds made up no more than 20% of my ride. Despite beginning and ending my ride from exactly the same spot.
But strangely, in a grit-your-teeth-grab-your-handlebars-and-pretend-you’re-a-Belgian-hardman-in-a-Rapha-photoshoot kind of way, I enjoyed my little tussle with Gertrude.
It was wet, windy, cold, and featured a spot of impromptu cyclo-cross, a couple of brief stretches of open water, and lots of trees that did a really convincing job of looking like they were about to fall across my path (or, more worryingly, my head), but didn’t.
Sure, the stats on my Garmin suggested I had ridden very slowly, and covered less distance in my hour and a half on the road than a Monday morning commuter on a steel shopping bike with a pet cat in the basket, but I knew the truth of it.
The truth was in the mud, grime, and foliage clogging up my drive-train; the aching back muscles arched in contorted effort; the standing up on the pedals and giving my all for 8mph of torturous forward motion; and the inner glow to be had from conquering a storm so wild it has a name.
I took on Gertrude and I (sort of) won.
You don’t get that kind of satisfaction from a bike ride in un-named and highly typical UK winter weather.