29 November 2015

A storm named Annie

Here in the British Isles we have already been blasted by two major storms this autumn/winter season. In quick succession, first Abigail and then Barney raced across us, bringing gale-force winds and sleet showers, torrential rain and subsequent flooding.

What intrigued me about these storms was their names and, after a little research, I discovered the list of storm names for autumn and winter 2015/16 has, in fact, been chosen for the very first time by members of the public. Using email, Facebook and Twitter, people were able to propose the storm names that will now be used by the UK Met Office and Met Eireann over the coming months.

Out of curiosity I checked to see if my name was on the list – it isn’t – but that in turn led me to wondering if there had ever been a storm named Annie … and, of course, there has been. In fact, Annie has been the name of several different types of storms, raging far and wide around the world.

Hurricane photographed from the International Space Station,
 image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Firstly though, let’s just clarify the terminology for these storms, something that confuses a lot of people. Broadly speaking, the names are location dependent: in the Atlantic and northeast Pacific the term hurricane is used, if the storm is located in the northwest Pacific it’s called a typhoon, and if it’s located in the Indian Ocean or south Pacific, it’s called a cyclone.

The word ‘typhoon’ may originate from tai fung, meaning wind that strikes, or from the Greek monster Typheous, the father of storms. The origin of the word ‘cyclone’ is also unclear; it may come from the Greek verb kuklos, meaning to rotate, or perhaps from Cyclops, the one-eyed monster.  

Bad weather usually begins life as a ‘low’ or a ‘depression’, may develop into what we would usually call a storm as the wind and rain intensifies, and only officially becomes a hurricane, typhoon or cyclone once the winds are averaging 74 miles per hour (64 knots or 118 kmph) or more. Major hurricanes are further categorised by number once they reach Category 3 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale (that’s between 111-129 mph, 96-112 knts or 178-208 kmph). At that point, devastation is likely and we should all be under cover somewhere safe!

Now let’s get back to those storms named Annie. Due to their location, typhoons usually have Asian names so there haven’t been any typhoons named Annie (though there have been both a greyhound, in Australia, and a racehorse, in New Zealand, called Typhoon Annie; neither was successful!).

According to Weather Underground, there was a tropical cyclone named Annie in the southern Indian Ocean between 28 October and 4 November 1969. She started out as a normal tropical depression (above left), then strengthened to a category 1 cyclone, with winds gusting between 74 and 95 mph, but fizzled out after about week without making landfall. And there was another named Annie in the same area (above right) in November/December 1973, which also worsened from tropical depression status to a category 1 cyclone. Luckily, though winds were gusting to 90 mph (78 knots or 145 kmph) at the Cocos Islands, this Annie also dissipated without causing any damage. 

Devastation caused by Hurricane Annie, images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

However, I was rather shocked to discover that Hurricane Annie was the most powerful hurricane ever to hit the United States! According to an article in the Sun Sentinel:  

The Labor Day storm [on 2 September 1935] was a category 5 hurricane that killed 408 people in the Florida Keys. People caught in the open were blasted by sand with such force that it stripped away their clothing. The storm destroyed Henry Flagler's railroad that connected Key West to the mainland and is said to have cleared every tree and every building off Matecumbe Key.
Those who perished in the storm included 259 World War I veterans living in three Civilian Conservation Corps camps while they worked constructing the Overseas Highway. A train sent to rescue them from the storm arrived too late and many died on board when it was swept off its track by the storm surge. Author Ernest Hemingway visited the Keys after the storm and wrote a scathing magazine article critical of those rescue efforts titled, "Who Killed the Vets?"
Damage in the United States was estimated at $6 million. … The only other category 5 hurricane to strike the U.S. coast was Camille, which hit Mississippi in August 1969. Camille's central pressure was 909 millibars. Andrew [August 1992] ranks third. Classified as a category 4 storm, Andrew's central pressure measured 922 millibars.

Burial of the 1835 hurricane victims, image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

If you are interested, there is more information about the hurricane on Wikipediaincluding a list of publications that have been written about it, and news channel Local10 also has a news bulletin showing images of the destruction caused by Hurricane Annie 80 years ago.  

What a sobering discovery it was to learn that a hurricane with my name had caused such devastation and loss of life, and what a terrible tragedy for the people of Florida. Let’s hope that was the last storm named Annie to cause any damage anywhere in the world.

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