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When Did We Start Naming Winter Storms?

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As Winter Storm Nemo heads east, here's a look back at the decision to start giving these storms names.

In 2012, The Weather Channel announced that it will be naming “noteworthy winter storms,” just as tropical storms are named. “The fact is,” writes Tom Nizioli on The Weather Channel’s website, “a storm with a name is easier to follow, which will mean fewer surprises and more preparation.”

A Storm By Any Other Name

According to The Weather Channel's logic, there are many benefits that come with assigning names to winter storms. A name gives the weather system a personality, which raises both awareness and the ability to follow its progress through social media. A name allows for clearer communications when multiple storms hit different areas of the country. Plus, naming a storm makes it easier to remember that storm—and refer to it—in the future.

But not everyone is on board with this plan. In fact, it has created a great deal of controversy in the meteorological community. Joel N. Myers, founder and president of Accuweather, has even said that naming storms will actually do more to confuse the public than to inform it. “In unilaterally deciding to name winter storms, The Weather Channel has confused media spin with science and public safety,” Myers said in a statement. “We have explored this issue for 20 years and have found that this is not good science and will mislead the public."

Myers’ criticism is that hurricanes and winter storms are very different beasts. There are strict guidelines—including sustained winds of 39 mph for a tropical storm and 74 mph for a hurricane—that distinguish other storms from those types of systems. In addition, Myers says, hurricanes have well-defined centers, unlike erratic winter storms, which can have multiple shifting centers and often affect different areas in different ways. “One area may get a blizzard, while places not too far away may experience rain or fog, or nothing at all,” he said. “Naming a winter storm that may deliver such varied weather will create more confusion in the public and the emergency management community."

The First Rule Of The Name Game Is...

Still, storms won't just be named willy nilly—The Weather Channel has established rules to determine which storms get monikers, though the process isn’t as clear cut or defined as the one that determines when systems become tropical storms and hurricanes. “Naming of winter storms will be limited to no more than three days before impact to ensure there is moderate to strong confidence the system will produce significant effects on a populated area,” Nizioli writes. The process will also include “a more complete assessment of several variables that combine to produce disruptive impacts including snowfall, ice, wind and temperature." The time of day a storm is slated to hit will also be taken into consideration.

After The Weather Channel announced its intentions to name winter storms, the National Weather Service said it had no plans to follow suit, though it does rate the severity of winter storms after the fact using the Northeast Snowfall Impact Scale.

Will A Winter Storm Be Named After Me?

If your parents have a thing for Greek gods and historical figures, then maybe: Besides Athena, The Weather Channel has reserved Brutus, Caesar, Draco, Euclid, Freyer, Gandolf, Helen, Iago, Jove, Khan, Luna, Magnus, Nemo, Orko, Plato, Q, Rocky, Saturn, Triton, Ukko, Virgil, Walda, Xerxes, Yogi, and Zeus as names for winter storms.

What do you think of The Weather Channel’s decision to name winter storms? Is this going to catch on?

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Big Questions
Are There Number 1 Pencils?
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Almost every syllabus, teacher, and standardized test points to the ubiquitous No. 2 pencil, but are there other choices out there?

Of course! Pencil makers manufacture No. 1, 2, 2.5, 3, and 4 pencils—and sometimes other intermediate numbers. The higher the number, the harder the core and lighter the markings. (No. 1 pencils produce darker markings, which are sometimes preferred by people working in publishing.)

The current style of production is profiled after pencils developed in 1794 by Nicolas-Jacques Conté. Before Conté, pencil hardness varied from location to location and maker to maker. The earliest pencils were made by filling a wood shaft with raw graphite, leading to the need for a trade-wide recognized method of production.

Conté’s method involved mixing powdered graphite with finely ground clay; that mixture was shaped into a long cylinder and then baked in an oven. The proportion of clay versus graphite added to a mixture determines the hardness of the lead. Although the method may be agreed upon, the way various companies categorize and label pencils isn't.

Today, many U.S.  companies use a numbering system for general-purpose, writing pencils that specifies how hard the lead is. For graphic and artist pencils and for companies outside the U.S., systems get a little complicated, using a combination of numbers and letters known as the HB Graphite Scale.

"H" indicates hardness and "B" indicates blackness. Lowest on the scale is 9H, indicating a pencil with extremely hard lead that produces a light mark. On the opposite end of the scale, 9B represents a pencil with extremely soft lead that produces a dark mark. ("F" also indicates a pencil that sharpens to a fine point.) The middle of the scale shows the letters and numbers that correspond to everyday writing utensils: B = No. 1 pencils, HB = No. 2, F = No. 2½, H = No. 3, and 2H = No. 4 (although exact conversions depend on the brand).

So why are testing centers such sticklers about using only No. 2 pencils? They cooperate better with technology because early machines used the electrical conductivity of the lead to read the pencil marks. Early scanning-and-scoring machines couldn't detect marks made by harder pencils, so No. 3 and No. 4 pencils usually resulted in erroneous results. Softer pencils like No. 1s smudge, so they're just impractical to use. So No. 2 pencils became the industry standard.

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Big Questions
What Are Curlers Yelling About?
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WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images

Curling is a sport that prides itself on civility—in fact, one of its key tenets is known as the “Spirit of Curling,” a term that illustrates the respect that the athletes have for both their own teammates and their opponents. But if you’re one of the millions of people who get absorbed by the sport once every four years, you probably noticed one quirk that is decidedly uncivilized: the yelling.

Watch any curling match and you’ll hear skips—or captains—on both sides barking and shouting as the 42-pound stone rumbles down the ice. This isn’t trash talk; it’s strategy. And, of course, curlers have their own jargon, so while their screams won’t make a whole lot of sense to the uninitiated, they could decide whether or not a team will have a spot on the podium once these Olympics are over.

For instance, when you hear a skip shouting “Whoa!” it means he or she needs their teammates to stop sweeping. Shouting “Hard!” means the others need to start sweeping faster. If that’s still not getting the job done, yelling “Hurry hard!” will likely drive the point home: pick up the intensity and sweep with downward pressure. A "Clean!" yell means put a brush on the ice but apply no pressure. This will clear the ice so the stone can glide more easily.

There's no regulation for the shouts, though—curler Erika Brown says she shouts “Right off!” and “Whoa!” to get her teammates to stop sweeping. And when it's time for the team to start sweeping, you might hear "Yes!" or "Sweep!" or "Get on it!" The actual terminology isn't as important as how the phrase is shouted. Curling is a sport predicated on feel, and it’s often the volume and urgency in the skip’s voice (and what shade of red they’re turning) that’s the most important aspect of the shouting.

If you need any more reason to make curling your favorite winter sport, once all that yelling is over and a winner is declared, it's not uncommon for both teams to go out for a round of drinks afterwards (with the winners picking up the tab, obviously). Find out how you can pick up a brush and learn the ins and outs of curling with our beginner's guide.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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