Have you been experiencing an increasing sense of dread each time you’ve visited Weather.com or flipped on The Weather Channel the past, say, two or three years?
As Winter Storm Thor bears down upon us, wielding its icy metaphorical hammer along the East Coast, let’s take a second to honor The Weather Channel’s weirdly admirable and potentially reckless decision to just up and start and naming “winter storms” independent of certain meteorological considerations.
It takes a certain level of gumption to brand the weather, and The Weather Channel proved they had it when it rolled out this campaign in 2012. The Weather Channel claims that its process of naming winter storms is backed by rigorous procedure. They also claim effective communication as rationale: “It’s simply easier to communicate about a complex storm if it has a name, which our naming program has demonstrated,” says the Weather Channel’s Bryan Norcross. “Good communication benefits everyone.”
That’s certainly true. But what if naming winter storms isn’t good communication?
In 2012, when The Weather Channel debuted its new marketing campaign (let’s call it what it is), competitor AccuWeather did not mince words: “In unilaterally deciding to name winter storms, The Weather Channel has confused media spin with science and public safety and is doing a disservice to the field of meteorology and public service,” says Dr. Joel Myers, founder and president of AccuWeather. And lest the assumption be made that this is just some saber rattling between two weather companies, AccuWeather has the National Weather Service on its side, per a 2013 article in The Wire. “The National Weather Service does not name winter storms because a winter storm’s impact can vary from one location to another, and storms can weaken and redevelop, making it difficult to define where one ends and another begins,” NWS Spokesperson Susan Buchanan told The Wire.
The obvious precedent here is the process of naming hurricanes, and the National Hurricane Center is clear that it does such for the benefit of easier communication. “The use of short, distinctive names…is quicker and less subject to error than the older, more cumbersome latitude-longitude identification methods. These advantages are especially important in exchanging detailed storm information between hundreds of widely scattered stations, coastal bases, and ships at sea.” But hurricanes are very specific things that lend themselves to catchy identification, while winter storms simply aren’t.
So where does that leave us? The Weather Channel did not blink in the face of this criticism, as it’s still wantonly naming winter storms two years on. I think it effectively boils down to the Weather Channel being good marketers, without necessarily being good scientists. These winter storm names make good hashtags, even if they don’t accomplish any larger meteorological goal.
There is probably room for The Weather Channel to be more actively transparent in its practices, since anecdotally, I have talked to numerous people who were under the impression that these names are “official.” It’s also not uncommon for news organizations to adopt The Weather Channel’s winter storm names in their broadcasts—the onus of which is certainly on those news organizations rather than the Weather Channel, but still.
For your average citizen, the net positive here is that The Weather Channel is very good at dubbing winter storms with entertainingly threatening names. Winter Storm Thor, as mentioned, sounds way more intimidating than a hurricane named Fred (or Bill, for that matter). And The Weather Channel is not averse to crowdsourcing these: we’re very close to being blessed with Winter Storm Wolf, if you take a look at the poll here. If only The Weather Channel could correlate snowfall with the danger posed by the namesakes, they might really be onto something.
And that brings us to AKHIA’s list of potential Winter Storm Names. Since I broached this subject with Lukas a week or two ago, we’ve come up with some good ones. And the Weather Channel certainly isn’t one for subtlety, so I think these are all plausible. Behold:
- Winter Storm Ragnarok
- Winter Storm Cthulhu (see also here)
- Winter Storm Sauron
- Winter Storm Fang
- Winter Storm Bowser
- Winter Storm Voldemort (the worst, obviously)
The potential is boundless.