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History of Naming Weather Systems

Königliche Gartenlehranstalt    Observation Record
1908: First Weather records at the Königlichen Gartenlehranstalt in Berlin-Dahlem

Although the tradition of recording the weather dates back at least to the Renaissance times, the tradition of naming highs and lows is much shorter. In World War II the American Weather Service started to identify typhoons in the pacific with female names. Thus it was easier for them to follow the current weather situation and to distinguish between several severe weather systems. This procedure was so helpful and satisfying that it was subsequently adopted for the hurricanes in the Atlantic, too.

Dr. Karla Wege
1954: Dr. Karla Wege
   In 1954, Karla Wege, who was a student at the Institute for Meteorology of the Free University (FU) Berlin and later weather moderator at the ZDF (Second German Television), suggested to name all vortices, both lows and highs in Central Europe. At that time the Institute of Meteorology of the FU Berlin was in charge of issuing comprehensive weather forecasts for the Berlin region. Since 1954 the Institute named lows with female names and highs with male names to track pressure systems in the weather charts more easily. To carry out the idea is simple. There were ten rundowns of the alphabet for highs and ten lists for lows. This adds up to 260 female and 260 male listed names. If they were used up, things started anew.

Until the 1990’s this practise was used exclusively by Berlin’s newspapers, local radio stations and TV-media. Severe storms, such as ‘Vivien’ and ‘Wiebke’ changed this habit and since then the names have been commonly used by German media.

Somewhat earlier Americans shifted to naming tropical storms in an alternating way, i.e., giving male and female names, but only when the storms reached a threatening stage. Things being not quite the same here, FU meteorologists traditionally name all vortices, termed lows and highs, that influence the Central European weather.

Preparation of the Weather Charts    'Wetterturm'
2002: Preparation of the Weather Charts at the 'Weather Tower' at FU Berlin

In 1998, a debate began as to whether it was discrimination to name the highs with “good weather“ with male names and lows with “bad weather” with female names. The issue was resolved by giving the lows male names and the highs female names in odd years, and vice versa in even years.

In November 2002, “Aktion Wetterpate (Adopt-a-Vortex)” was born. Now the public had the opportunity to become ‘clients’ and adopt highs or lows. Since March 2002, we don’t use the names from our old lists. We make an alphabetical list of all the suggested names. To suggest a name (or to adopt a name), a fee has to be paid. Instead of irregular income as donations with this regular income, we are able to maintain “the Students Observation Service” at the Weather Station 10381 (Berlin-Dahlem). November 2007 saw the fifth anniversary of Adopt-a-Vortex. Over 1.800 participants from 15 European countries plus Brazil, Japan und the United States have already been adopted as clients.

The names that are given (= adopted) are published in the ‘Berliner Wetterkarte’ and are available for use by any weather services or media (newspapers, radio, TV, internet). This practice has been well established for over 50 years and maintaining it is requested not only by the German Weather Service or by the commercial service providers but also, by the public. Apart from the US-Weather Service, the Institute of Meteorology is the only source for named vortices worldwide.


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