Name That Storm!

Naming Hurricanes has been a practice for a long time. Doing so helps both the public and emergency managers keep track of the storms and distinguish between simultaneous storms. A new plan by the Weather Channel is to now do the same thing with winter storms. This is not an entirely new idea as winter storms have been named in Europe since the 1950’s, but it is new to the United States.

Figure 1 shows the list of proposed storm names for the winter 2012-2013 season.

Already this season both winter storms Athena and Brutus have been named. Athena hit the East Coast and winter storm Brutus swept through the Upper Midwest including areas such as Grand Forks.

This move by the weather channel has hit a lot of criticism however. First, many see it as an arrogant move by the weather channel to assume that it can take control of the naming by itself without any more official authority from the government. Stemming from this is the worry that, if a private media corporation such as the weather channel can name storms, what stops other outlets from doing the same thing? There exists the possibility to have conflicting storm names from competing media outlets and that would just lead to public confusion. The Grand Forks herald, a local newspaper, already names all the storms that come through the region.

A second criticism to their strategy is that the criteria for naming a storm are rather vague. While it is true that winter storms do last long enough that naming them may by a good idea, the storm will greatly vary in strength across the entire region. There exists then, the potential to cause unnecessary fear in the public when a named storm is approaching as it may be much weaker than implied. Winter storm Brutus for example, only dropped a few inches across the Grand Forks region even though there was much talk about how a great winter storm was approaching.

Overall, the intentions of the Weather Channel are good, but the execution may be a bit sloppy. Naming, if it’s done at all, should be done by an official source that all the media outlets will have to follow.

-by Timm Uhlmann

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