“Katja”, “Ursel” or “Xander” – Berlin meteorology students have been selling the names of high and low pressure areas since 2002 in order to finance their weather observation station.
There is little that connects people on earth so much as the weather – and talking about the weather. If you like, with the help of the weather you can even put your own first name into the news. Since 2002 Berlin meteorology students have been selling sponsorships for high and low pressure areas worldwide. The low “Ursel” and the high “Xander” are cited with all due ceremony on official weather maps and are thus mentioned in meteorological reports on television, radio and in newspapers.
The unusual offer, which always commences in the autumn on the homepage of the Institute of Meteorology of the Freie Universität Berlin, is a great opportunity for weather enthusiasts in many countries. Some acquire a sponsorship for themselves; other as a gift for friends or relatives. A high costs 356 euros; a low 236 euros. Since the number of annual pressure areas is not exactly predictable – based on experience it is around 200 – there are also “risk sponsorships” with money-back guarantees.
Male and female names alternate yearly
“Aktion Wetterpate” (Weather Sponsorship Action) is located on the fourth floor of an old water tower in Berlin-Steglitz, the only weather station in the world that students operate around the clock. In 2002 the student weather observation station there was to be discontinued because the university had to make cuts. The students then carried on the project on a voluntary basis. In order to receive at least some compensation for this time-consuming work, they soon hit upon the idea of selling the names of Central European high and low pressure areas. On 21 November 2002, “Yvonne”, the first purchased high, moved in over Germany. The naming of pressure areas had already been common practice at the Meteorological Institute since 1953. In the beginning, lows were given exclusively female names; it was only in 1988 that equal rights in naming were introduced. Since then, male and female names alternate yearly.
High or low?
Meteorology student Daniela Schoster at the student weather observation station | Photo (detail): © Gunnar Leue
In 2017, high pressure areas will be given female and low pressure areas male names. This is very good for business, since sponsorships are often given as a gift and most men prefer to give their girlfriends a fair weather high than a rainy low. “Female highs”, says meteorology student Daniela Schoster, “sell faster”.
Every year there are over 50 highs and about three times as many lows that exercise a relevant influence on Central European weather. While a low usually lasts three to seven days, a high can last seven to ten days and, in the extreme case, up to three weeks, as did “Michaela” in the European “summer of the century” in 2003.
Although most pressure areas bear typically German names such as “Klaus”, “Dieter” or “Petra”, Swedish and Russian first names such as “Pille” and “Ivan” have also made it onto the weather maps; the main thing is that name is recognized under law. The high “Sören”, which settled over Central Europe in 2016, had its name from more than a single sponsor. A whole sponsor collective from Germany proposed the name: the voluntary staff of an open-air cinema, which had previously supported various nature conservation projects.
As marketing idea allowed only as an exception
Some sponsors speculate out of non-profit interests on a super-high. For example, citizens of the North German city of Oldenburg discovered the opportunity to put their hometown on the weather map, and so in the national news, for several years by sponsoring a high named “Oldenburgia”. Commercial companies with similar marketing ideas, however, are usually rejected unless they or their product is named after a recognized first name. It was only for this reason possible that, at the release of the latest Star Wars episode, “Yoda”, “Luke” and “Leia” could zoom through not only the universe but also the weather reports.
The business of the Berlin students at any rate is enjoying a long high. Since 2002, over 1,800 people from 15 European countries, Brazil, Japan and the United States have become weather sponsors. All receive a package containing a certificate, weather map and “life history” of their pressure area, which includes an account of its duration and the destruction it may have caused. According to Daniela Schoster, some sponsors of low pressure areas that have had serious consequences have even inquired whether they would have to pay for the damages. “The sponsors feel somehow responsible. They’re not of course, so we can put their minds at rest.”