What’s the big deal with naming winter storms?

As you may or may not know by now The Weather Channel has decided to give certain winter storms a name. They made the decision over a month ago too much fanfare and equal amounts of controversy. You can read their reasoning and methodology right here.


Now on the surface I actually think naming winter storms makes sense and has a real and valid purpose. The problem though arises in the execution and what the criteria and methodology is for naming storms. This is not entirely clear to me as a meteorologist on how TWC(The Weather Channel) is doing this. It seems deep in mystery and controversy. In many ways it feels like the NCAA BCS process for selection of a national champion in football or for that matter the selection committee for March Madness. Which means it will always make someone very angry.

Which leads me to the other issues I have with this. No one outside of TWC is using the naming process that they have developed. Which defeats the main purpose of naming storms in the first place. Which is Communication!

The National Weather Service is under strict orders not use the names provided by the TWC in any of their products. As you can see in the message sent out yesterday about “Athena” in the northeast.

11-7-2012 11-30-05 AM

Since the NWS isn’t using the names this means the Associated Press and many other media outlets will not be using the names either. This means almost every major newspaper will refrain from using the names since the AP basically says it’s a no go.

Throw in the fact that the TWC is owned by NBC and no other non NBC affiliate or property has any motivation to use the names. Throw CNN, FOX, CBS and ABC out of the mix and you have only one voice using messaging that no one else is using. Thus again defeating the purpose of naming storms in the first place.

Another aspect that seems to be counter productive is the naming for social media purposes. This was another good reason to name winter storms so people could use unified hashtags to talk about a storm on social media. Problem is since there is such a backlash against the names in the first place some of the biggest voices on-line are not using them. So much so that #Athena nationally had a hard time trending on Twitter while #noreaster and #snow were in the top ten.

11-8-2012 10-31-01 AM

I follow a lot of TWC employees on social media and am friends with quite a few. I love these people but it almost appears to me they are spending more time tweeting about the name of the storm than it’s impacts. Maybe it’s to get the name out there? Maybe it’s a natural defense to the pushback on the whole naming process? I’m not sure but it appears to be distracting from the main purpose of TWC which is to get vital severe weather information out to people. I need to see less Breaking News tweets about the storm being named and more about the watches and warnings being issued and it’s impacts.

I think eventually we will all be using names for winter storms but it will be through collaboration and some kind of peer review process to determine what the qualifications are. In the mean time we need to focus less on what names we give severe weather and more on their impacts. We are confusing the public and sending mixed signals on what to expect. If 10 feet of storm surge is coming it really doesn’t matter what causes it whether it’s a hurricane, tropical storm, nor’easter or Athena. You need to just know 10’ of water is coming and you are in danger. It’s odd how in weather we get caught up in these things so much. In medicine this rarely happens, after all if the doctors say you have cancer we don’t sit around arguing what the name of the cancer is? Nope… we just want to know if it’s curable or not.

  • Well said Brad. I think when it comes to communication, we have a long way to go before we are sending a strong, unified, clear message to the public.

  • In my world, this is referred to as a “pissing contest”. In other words, NWS doesn’t want to be bound by names that are generated by somebody else. And THEY don’t think the names are a good idea. So, we, the consumers and citizens, are stuck with self centered idiots controlling information. NWS could shut down TWCs efforts easily by having their own names.

    • wxbrad

      I agree that it appears this way right now. Maybe this was the intention of TWC to try and spur the NWS into action. They can be painfully slow to adapt to better ways of doing things sometimes. Typical for a government agencies.

  • Nonsense. The main purpose of the TWC is not at all (at least not anymore) about dispensing vital information. Rather it is about promoting Coast Guard Alaska, Iceberg Hunters (how the hell is that even a show?), Pyros, and other useless reality TV. It surprises me that TWC didn’t name any storms after people “starring” in any of those shows (or maybe they did and I just never watch them). Next year, watch TWC include sponsors in their storm names (“stay tuned for another Winter Storm ‘Home Depot’ update”). And while TWC will never admit to it, ratings, not science or public safety, are the reason that this is happening. They get more eyes on their *cough* “weather coverage” *cough* when there’s a “named” storm. They need as many days out of the year where there’s “threatening” weather–and there’s nothing going on during the winter in the tropics. Gosh, that sounds a lot like sensationalizing weather for the purpose of selling advertising, no? Rest In Peace, TWC.

  • I wonder if TWC approached the NWS ahead of time concerning this subject. Would be curious to know how the process unfolded.

    • wxbrad

      They did not, but wish they did or the AMS, NWA or someone.

  • Baday57

    Today’s media seems to want to be bigger than the story. The naming of winter storms is just one more example of a person or organization becoming the story, in this case not the actual storm. TWC has lost it’s focus, and wants to provide “entertainment”. Justin raises some very valid points, and very scary predictions. I can see “this storm is brought to you by gore tex” blah blah blah. TWC naming storms in my case was the final straw. That is, I cancelled my cable. And I cannot get satellite here. I do not miss it one bit. Besides, if one were to believe TWC one would never leave the house. Either 2-4 feet of snow, or severe storms are always being forecast. I live in a snow belt, we get about 1/4 of the snow that is predicted. There was a time TWC was a good station providing very useful information. Alas, fare thee well, TWC. I barely knew ye.

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