Weather Science

Hypemageddon? Frankenhype? The Weather Channel to begin naming “noteworthy” storms.

Who could ever forget powerful storms such as hurricanes Andrew, Katrina or Sandy? Not only did these storms have a devastating impact but the hype surrounding these storms was unprecedented. By personifying these storms with human names and qualities such as “powerful”, “mean” or “brutal”, meteorologists attempt to better warn people about a dangerous situation that could occur in their area. That is why beginning this year; The Weather Channel (TWC) will name “noteworthy” winter storms.

The intention is good; The Weather Channel wants to better prepare Americans across the country when a threatening winter storm is headed their way. But is this really the best way to accomplish this goal?

According to their website, the goal of naming winter storms is “to better communicate the threat and the timing of the significant impacts that accompany these events”. TWC meteorologist Tom Niziol believes that along with a heightened sense of awareness that naming a storm brings, it will be easier for the general audience to track a weather system progress. The Weather Channel also says that when winter storms are named, much like hurricanes, they will tend to take on a personality of their own, adding to the heightened awareness among the public. Niziol also claims that in today’s social media world, a name makes it much easier to reference in communication.

The Weather Channel’s proposed storm names. Um. No hype here.

However this naming could easily confuse people rather than helping them prepare. One thing to note is that there is no exact criterion for naming these storms. What I mean by that is that for a hurricane, a certain wind speed must be met to reach certain categories of a hurricane. For example, a tropical cyclone is determined a category one hurricane when sustained wind speeds are 74-95 mph; category two is 96-110 mph sustained winds and so on. TWC does not have these qualifications for their winter storms; in fact they are determining a “noteworthy” winter storm solely on impacts.

According to The Weather Channel “The process for naming a winter storm will reflect a more complete assessment of several variables that combine to produce disruptive impacts including snowfall, ice, wind and temperature. In addition, the time of day (rush hour vs. overnight) and the day of the week (weekday school and work travel vs. weekends) will be taken into consideration…”

Essentially, a storm that drops 20 inches of snow in the boonies of North Dakota may not get a name, but a storm that drops 2 inches of snow in Atlanta gets a hashtag (those that tweet know what I’m talking about) and a special news report all because it has a name.

And what about lake effect snow? If Rochester or Buffalo is blanketed by 30 inches in a two-day span, does that event get a name? I guess only time will tell, but one thing is for certain, those names are pretty lame.

The future of weather journalism? Cheap click-throughs and Twitter hash tags?