Why Are Winter Storms Suddenly Getting Named?

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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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November 7, 2012 - 11:00am
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