Why do storms in Switzerland have two names?

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Why do storms in Switzerland have two names?
Lightening crashes over Lausanne. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Depending on which part of the Swiss press you've been reading, the storm savaging Switzerland is known as either Ciara or Sabine. But why?


For anyone watching the news over the past week, amid the news about damage, canceled flights and inclement weather, one thing may have been a little confusing - is the inclement weather the work of Ciara or Sabine?

The answer to the question is ‘both’ - although that doesn’t mean there were two storms tearing their way across Switzerland last weekend (even if it may have felt like it). 

READ: Roads closed and planes grounded as 'record-breaking' storms sweep Switzerland

The real reason is that the storm is known as Ciara in French-speaking Switzerland and Sabine in the German-speaking part. 

Germany the first to name storms in Europe

The reason for the different names, as reported by Swiss daily 20 Minutes, owes to the origins of storm naming - which goes back to the Free University of Berlin in 1954. 

The University in 1954 was the first institution in Europe to name storms, following on from the American Weather Service in World War Two. 

Originally, all low pressure systems were given female names and high pressure systems given male names. 

This changed in 1998 when people started to call into doubt the practice of naming bad weather after women and good weather after men. The practice was changed to alternate the gender of the names of high and low pressure systems in odd and even years.

One rule for German-speaking Europe, another for the rest of the continent

German-speaking Europe now complies with the name given by the Free University - a rule which extends well beyond Berlin but also into Austria and Switzerland. 

On the rest of the continent however, the country which is first impacted by the storm is the first to name it - with other European countries following suit. 

Ciara, which was identified as a depression across England, was named there - before moving to the European mainland. 

With German spoken alongside French and Italian - and of course Romansh - in Switzerland, it means that the same storm can be ravishing the country with two names. 

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