Courtesy: The Weather Channel
Courtesy: The Weather Channel

I already thought the Weather Channel’s idea of naming winter storms this winter was a bad idea, but when it didn’t seem to be catching on I didn’t think much of it. However, the massive blizzard hitting New England and the New York/New Jersey area has clearly changed that perception. Now people are going crazy and making sure to mention “Nemo” when talking about this storm.

Can you please stop?! You are only feeding into a gimmick, ratings induced idea. There is only one entity doing this and it’s TWC – well kind of. There is a TV station in Connecticut that has called the storm “Charlotte.” And that is just the beginning of this problem.

It isn’t like TWC was the first to go down this road. Several TV stations in at least Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island started doing this in the last few years (or to some claims since the 1970s), but they come up with their own names. So you run into a storm like this, you could come up with several names (What’s in a Blizzard’s Name? Is it Nemo, Charlotte, Snowpocalypse? –

Housatonic Times). I am sure that is helpful!

When TWC decided to go with this plan before the winter it was immediately shot down by the National Weather Service. NWS doesn’t like the idea and made sure to tell those in the agency (Iowa Environmental Mesonet), so why should we?

Here are the reasons why TWC says they are naming storms (Why The Weather Channel is Naming Winter Storms – weather.com):

– Naming a storm raises awareness.
– Attaching a name makes it much easier to follow a weather system’s progress.
– A storm with a name takes on a personality all its own, which adds to awareness.
– In today’s social media world, a name makes it much easier to reference in communication.
– A named storm is easier to remember and refer to in the future.

First of all, I will admit that naming storms does raise awareness, but when there isn’t a set standard or system in place, like for tropical storms and hurricanes, and other entities come up with their own names, what kind of awareness are you actually making? I suggest just awareness of your station which makes it a ratings gimmick.

Then the notion that a name makes it easier to follow a storm’s progress doesn’t really make sense. This particular storm is actually two storms combining into one monster blizzard. So which one did you name? Which one of those two’s progress should I be following?

I do have to laugh at “a storm with a name takes on a personality all its own, which adds awareness.” This reads more like if they name the storm it will realize this fact and will all of a sudden take on more of a personality. Or do they mean that when they name the storm they and you can now officially hype it as much as you want because the fact it has a name gives it or you the credibility to do so?

I will agree that in a social media world, naming a storm is cool and certainly helps things “trend.” But sometimes, most times, these things are created on their own. Do you remember “The President’s Day Storm” of 2003 or “Snowmageddon” which was back-to-back blizzards in 2009? I do, I lived and worked through them. Those storms got “named” when something about them or the timing allowed a natural “naming” process that people will remember throughout history.

Then there is the “Perfect Storm” (left). This 1991 freak combination of a Nor’easter and Hurricane Grace which eventually became a new hurricane and did something similar to Sandy in terms of moving backwards towards to the coast (though unlike Sandy, this storm never officially made it ashore). The term was actually something meteorologist were using that eventually became the title of Sebastian Junger’s popular book which then became a popular movie in 2000. But believe it or not, the National Hurricane Center did not name the new hurricane to avoid confusion for people who already knew Hurricane Grace had existed. They didn’t want to confuse people by naming the storm even though they were well in their rights to do so because it was a hurricane and it wasn’t Hurricane Grace anymore! So why should we be naming winter storms if there isn’t one authority naming them in the first place?

And for their last point, we certainly know that tropical storm and hurricane named storms allow people to remember what storm they are talking about, especially since the storms with talking about have those names retired to avoid confusion in the future. But when there are multiple names for a storm because several entities have come up with their own names, I highly doubt people will actually talk about the storms more easily. And what makes TWC’s name the official name?

This is simply a gimmick and a drive for ratings. The only reason this storm’s name has become popular is because for some crazy reason TWC choose to use “Nemo” as a name on their list. They chose a name everyone thinks of because of a popular Disney fish – not much of a great way to remember a devastating blizzard. (TWC has a completely different reason for their name which actually doesn’t do much better – Winter Storm Names for 2012 – weather.com.)

TWC also has a very vague and broad way of determining what will be a named storm. They will also wait until three days prior to a storm making an impact to name them.

Do you remember the Nor’easter shortly after Sandy destroyed the New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland shore lines. The storm was a typical, though intense, Nor’easter that was ill-timed on an area that didn’t need it. It also dumped a ton of snow in a very quick period of time. Did you hear the name of the storm? Of course not because no one was buying into the idea.

Courtesy: The Weather Channel
Courtesy: The Weather Channel

The storm’s name by TWC was “Athena” and I don’t remember one person bringing that name up on social media or in national or respected media. In fact there have been 14 named storms so far by TWC and this is the first time any of them have actually seemed to have garnered any attention.

Now to the biggest reason this is simply a gimmick: despite TWC’s connections, they are still the only ones using the names.

TWC is owned by NBCUniversal and as a result, reporters and meteorologist from TWC appear on NBC News often. I see them all the time when I tune into Nightly News with Brian Williams. You would think that this would be the perfect opportunity to bring to the public’s attention this new naming procedure. But in fact, not once have I heard anyone from TWC or even those at NBC News ever utter the names. There hasn’t been a story on the idea and when talking about every storm including “Athena” and now “Nemo” no one at TWC has said those names while on NBC News. (In fact, NBC News on Friday night was calling in “Blizzard of 2013.”)

That tells me one thing to be sure, if NBC News doesn’t respect something one of its owned media partners is doing enough to spotlight it and when even the NWS has openly stated they are not interested in partaking in the idea then its a gimmick.

So why should we feed into the gimmick? We shouldn’t. Certainly many will fall into the trap when a clown fish is the only thing people can think about when the name is referenced, but that doesn’t mean we should all follow suit. I know some who have stated that they are using the name because that is what people are using elsewhere. But if national news organizations are not using the term why justify the crazy notion.

And finally by naming these storms when there isn’t an overall process or list that everyone agrees to follow, we are degrading the actual names, and the process, of potentially deadly tropical storms and hurricanes that need that kind of spotlight. I am not saying winter storms are not dangerous and potentially deadly, but this kind of thing has to be run not by a “world-class organization such as The Weather Channel,” as they call themselves in their own press release (Why The Weather Channel is Naming Winter Storms), but by NOAA and thus the National Weather Service. When that happens, I will be happy to jump on the winter storm name bandwagon.

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