Naming snow storms like hurricanes might be a good idea, but not as a way to drive Weather Channel ratings
BeltwayLand is often maligned for going overboard with snowstorms, but I find it fun when the Washington D.C. media/population/school systems/etc. goes absolutely crazy over snow. Sure, people from the snow belt mock us for it, but in reality, they aren’t any better. Trust me, I spent 4ish years in Pennsylvania at two different Penn State campuses in the mountains (Hazleton and University Park) and they go just as overboard, perhaps out of boredom.
Web comic The Oatmeal put “snow in the city” it much more succinctly though.
Over the years, there was the Knickerbocker Storm, the storm of ‘83, the double whammy in 1987, the Ash Wednesday Storm, several President’s Day storms and of course Snowmageddon, Snowpocalypse, and Snoverkill. The latter storms became so-named through social media. Now, the Weather Channel wants to assign names to big storms (Hurricanes have names — now blizzards will, too – USA Today):
The Weather Channel will assign the monikers, “the first time a national organization in North America will proactively name winter storms,” the network reports.
Most of the names on the list have a Greek/Roman theme — the first three are Athena, Brutus and Caesar.
“On a national scale, the most intense winter storms acquire a name through some aspect of pop culture and now social media; for example, Snowmaggeddon and Snotober,” says Weather Channel winter weather expert Tom Niziol, referring to big snowstorms that blasted parts of the Eastern USA.
On on hand, I see the utility of this but there are some big problems.
1.) What are the parameters for a storm being named? Unlike hurricanes which have the Safir-Simpson Scale and are based largely on wind speed, winter storms have a wide variety of types and consequences. A quarter inch of freezing rain or three inches of wet snow are likely more problematic than six inches of fresh powder. In addition to intensity, time of day makes a big difference? Remember a few winters ago when something like 3 inches of snow (okay, so it was more like 5, my memory is faulty) led to a nightmare commute and people getting stuck at their offices overnight in some cases? Had it feel 6 hours later, it might have meant nothing more than some school delays the next morning.
2.) What about the other weather forecasters? The National Weather Service, Accuweather, Weather Underground, Weatherbug, every local TV staiton, etc.? They cannot be too happy at all to have a competitor deciding what storms are big.
3.) Another concern seems to be that this is a decision rooted in marketing and not meteorology. Here’s marketing blog MGH has to say:
What makes this Weather Channel decision more about marketing than news is that it, as a ratings-generating television network, gets to set the parameters for what makes for a “name-worthy” winter storm. In essence, there is a profit motive in exclusively branding severe weather events that have the ability to destroy homes and claim lives.
I can already hear the discussions at TWC headquarters in Georgia: “The eastern seaboard may see six inches of snow and maybe some ice too? Better bust out a name for that one. Ratings gold!”
“Eastern Montana is going to see two feet of snow and 50 mph winds? More elk live there than people and elk don’t drive Nielsen ratings. Let’s not waste a name on that one. We need to save Xerses for the inevitable spring Nor’easter!”
Also, will The Weather Channel allow competing news organizations to use these names without permission or a courtesy mention of TWC? Will any competing news outlets even want to use these names?
This appears to be an unknown and could create a situation where various news outlets are speaking in a different language about the same storm. That’s not good for clarity of information and public safety, which is what TWC is claiming to care about.
I found that from the Capital Weather Gang post – Marketing professional slams Weather Channel storm naming initiative
I don’t think a winter storm naming system is a horrible idea, but if it is going to happen, standards need to be worked out by the meteorology community, associations, etc. One cable channel making the decision, possibly based on ratings motives, is problematic. I’m not saying I don’t understand (see right), but it just isn’t a good idea.