The Weather Channel has released its list of storm names for the upcoming winter storm season despite there being no official government or meteorological agency process for naming winter weather systems. While spokespeople for the Weather Channel say the naming makes it easier to track a storm’s progress and allows people to stay better informed, critics say it is a cheap publicity stunt to draw in viewers and only creates confusion.
The reason government weather agencies like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration do not name winter storms is that their physical characteristics are not as defined as, say, those of a cyclone or tropical storm. The physical parameters like strength and intensity of those kinds of weather systems are easier to measure, according to weather experts. The physical characteristics of winter storms are not as clear cut.
However, with the rise of social media, especially the now-ubiquitous hashtag, informal names for storms – Snowmageddon, Snowpocalypse and Snowzilla – are catching on. The Weather Channel has aimed to capitalize on the nature of social media to disseminate popular monikers, but the NOAA isn’t buying it.
“The [NOAA] does not name winter storms and there are no plans to consider naming winter storms,” an spokesperson for the organization said in an emailed statement to International Business Times in response to a question about the Weathe Channel's naming process. “Our forecasts and alerts are focused on communicating specific impacts that are expected. With any type of storm, impacts can vary widely and over a very large area, and it’s critical that people understand exactly what to expect in the area in which they are in or will travel to.”
This year’s list, the Weather Channel’s third, includes several names from Greek and Roman mythologies. One grievance with the Weather Channel’s storm naming is that it only gives names to storms centered on heavily-populated areas where more people will take to the Web and social media, even if the storm has very little impact. Last season, the Weather Channel named 26 storms across the U.S.
“The Weather Channel's list of winter storm names is a brilliant, near-zero-budget advertising campaign that uses you as their mouthpiece,” Dennis Mersereau of the Vane wrote. “They knew that by going about these winter storm names unilaterally, with zero input from the weather community and attempting to force everyone to fall in line.”
Tom Niziol, winter weather expert for the channel, said the naming improved communication and “is a key part of the Weather Channel team's core mission to keep the public safe and informed in severe weather events."