Winter storm naming in the United States

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Winter storm naming in the United States has been used since the mid 1700s in various ways to describe historical winter storms. These names have been coined from days of the year that the storm impacted, to noteworthy structures such as a theatre the storm had destroyed. In recent years winter storm naming has become controversial with the Weather Channel, and various media coming up with their own names for winter storms. It has been argued by meteorologists that winter storms can reform more than once making naming hard, and redundant. On the other side of the argument those in favor of naming storms argue that the names help people with preparation in advance. Entities from the United States government which includes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the National Weather Service (NWS) have also weighed in stating that they would not be naming winter storms, and have asked others to refrain from doing so. Despite the request though, the issue with naming winter storms continues to come up yearly with various names dubbed by the media.


Winter Storm naming in the United States goes back to the 1700s. A snowstorm that hit the colonies of New England in 1717 was referred to as "The Great Snow of 1717".[1] Another noteworthy storm that hit the great plains in 1888 was dubbed "The Schoolhouse Blizzard" or "Children's Blizzard".[2] Naming would be used again in 1905 for The Mataafa Storm that occurred on the Great Lakes.[3] In 1924, a storm hit the upper South and middle Atlantic United States. This storm turned blizzard was dubbed the Knickerbocker Storm after the Knickerbocker Theatre in Washington D.C. which the storm destroyed.[4] Named days of the calendar for storms include a storm that hit in 1940 called the Armistice Day Blizzard, a storm in 1976 called the Groundhog Day gale, and more recently a storm in 1991 dubbed the Halloween blizzard. The twentieth century closed with two more storms that received names. In 1993, a storm that spanned a large portion of the eastern United States was called the 1993 Storm of the Century. In 1997 a blizzard that impacted the Northeastern United States was dubbed the April Fool's Day Blizzard.

Storms of the twenty-first century include the South Valley Surprise of 2002 that impacted Oregon. In 2006, the National Weather Service named a winter storm that impacted Buffalo New York Lake Storm "Aphid". Later in the year major storms that occurred in Colorado were dubbed the Colorado Holiday Blizzards. During October 2012 after informally using the previously-coined name "Snowtober" for the 2011 Halloween nor'easter, The Weather Channel announced that it was going to start naming winter storms from a predetermined list of names.[5] The Weather Channel argued that the winter storm names would improve communications of storm warnings and help reduce storm impacts.[5] Private agencies, and news stations have also named storms in recent years that have received international media attention. These names include "Snowmageddon", "Snowzilla", and other voted upon names such as Anna, after former First Lady Anna Harrison.[6]

Naming by The Weather Channel[edit]

In November 2012, TWC began systematically naming winter storms, starting with the November 2012 nor'easter it named "Winter Storm Athena."[7] TWC compiled a list of winter storm names for the 2012–13 winter season. It would only name those storms that are "disruptive" to people, said Bryan Norcross, a TWC senior director.[8] TWC's decision was met with criticism from other weather forecasters, who called the practice self-serving and potentially confusing to the public.[citation needed] Naming though has been used by The Weather Channel (TWC) since 2011, when the cable network informally used the previously-coined name "Snowtober" for a 2011 Halloween nor'easter.[9][10][11][12]

A few of the winter storm names used by March 2013 include Athena, Brutus, Caesar, Gandolf, Khan, and Nemo.[13][14][15] For the 2013-2014 season, The Weather Channel published a list of 26 more names to be used for winter storms, with the name Atlas as the first name of the season.[16] On October 2, 2014, The Weather Channel released 25 new names with the 26th "W" to be voted on by viewers.[17] Names were again made for winter storms in the 2014–15 season, and for the 2015–16 season.[18][19] Names were later updated for the 2015–16 season, notable storms have included Ajax,[20][21] Delphi,[22] and Jonas.

United States government naming policy[edit]

The U.S. government-operated National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) (a division of which–the National Hurricane Center–has named hurricanes for many years) and its main division–the National Weather Service (NWS)–did not acknowledge TWC's winter storm names and asked its forecast offices to refrain from using the TWC names.[23] In a November 2012 memo, it requested that its employees avoid referring to storms by name.[9][24] NWS spokesperson Susan Buchanan stated, "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."[25] The National Weather Service office in Buffalo, New York named lake-effect snow storms in its coverage area through the 2012–13 season.[26] In 2013, the office removed references to its previous history of naming those storms and now only refers to the storms by date.


Private weather forecaster AccuWeather disagreed with the practice of naming winter storms in 2013. AccuWeather president Joel N. Myers stated in February 2013, "The Weather Channel has confused media spin with science and public safety. We [...] have found this is not good science and will mislead the public."[14][27] In defense of TWC's practice, TWC's Norcross said, "The fact is, a storm with a name is easier to follow, which will mean fewer surprises and more preparation."[28]

In February 2013, media organizations such as The New York Times and The Washington Post stated that they would not use a name such as "Winter Storm Nemo" for the February 2013 nor'easter.[14][29] However, some outlets such as New York mayor Michael Bloomberg's office used the Twitter hashtag "#nemo" to refer to the storm.[30] Tom Kines of AccuWeather stated, "The Weather Channel probably names the storms because it gets the publicity"; as a privately owned weather service, TWC relies on its TV audience and page views for revenue.[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Zielinski and Keim, pg. 181
  2. ^ Laskin, David (2004). The Children's Blizzard. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 0-06-052076-0. 
  3. ^ Duluth Seaway Port Authority, Minnesota
  4. ^ Ambrose, Kevin. "The Knickerbocker Snowstorm of January 27–28, 1922". Washington Weather Book. Retrieved 2006-10-24. 
  5. ^ a b Freedman, Andrew (October 2, 2012). "Weather Channel Announces Plan to Name Winter Storms". Archived from the original on September 21, 2015. Retrieved September 21, 2015. 
  6. ^ "Weekend Storm – the latest!". WFSB. Hartford, Connecticut: Meredith Corporation. January 21, 2016. Retrieved January 22, 2016. 
  7. ^ Freeman, Andrew (October 2, 2012). "Weather Channel Announces Plan to Name Winter Storms". Weather Central. Retrieved February 10, 2013. 
  8. ^ Semuels, Alana (February 9, 2013). "Weather Channel finding Nemo is creating storm among meteorologists". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on February 10, 2013. Retrieved February 11, 2013. 
  9. ^ a b Palmer, Roxanne (February 8, 2013). "What's In A Storm Name? Weather Channel Policy Draws Critics, But Catches On". International Business Times. Retrieved February 10, 2013. 
  10. ^ Stelter, Brian (February 8, 2013). "A Storm Is 'No One,' and Means Very Little". The New York Times. 
  11. ^ Epstein, David (2013-02-11). "Historical snowstorm yes, blizzard no". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2013-02-16. 
  12. ^ "Nemo Controversy: Should We Name Every Big Storm?". Retrieved 2013-02-16. 
  13. ^ "It's Not a Storm Until the Weather Channel Names It". The Daily Beast. 2013-03-07. Retrieved 2013-05-01. 
  14. ^ a b c Newman, Jared (February 9, 2013). "Don't Call that Storm 'Nemo'? Twitter Begs to Differ". Time. Retrieved February 11, 2013. 
  15. ^ Stelter, Brian (February 7, 2013). "A Fish, Er, Storm Named Nemo". The New York Times. 
  16. ^ "Winter Storm Names 2013-14: What They Are and What They Mean". The Weather Channel. Retrieved 2014-01-02. 
  17. ^ "Weather Channel announces winter storm names, reigniting debate over their value". 2014-10-01. Retrieved 2014-10-05. 
  18. ^ "Winter Storm Names 2014-2015: What They Are and What They Mean". The Weather Channel. Retrieved October 2, 2014. 
  19. ^ Doyle Rice (2015-10-13). "From Ajax to Zandor: Weather Channel releases list of winter storm names". USA Today. Retrieved 2015-10-13. 
  20. ^ "Winter Storm Ajax, the First Named Winter Storm of the Season, to Bring Blizzard Conditions to High Plains". The Weather Channel. 16 November 2015. Retrieved 17 November 2015. 
  21. ^ Daniel Arkin. "Winter Storm Could Drop up to 2 Feet of Snow on Rockies". NBC News. Retrieved 17 November 2015. 
  22. ^ "Winter Storm Delphi, to Bring More Snow to Northern Plains, Upper Midwest, Including Minneapolis". The Weather Channel. 29 November 2015. Retrieved 29 November 2015. 
  23. ^ "What's the big deal with naming winter storms?". Retrieved February 9, 2013. 
  24. ^ Walter, Marcus (November 7, 2012). "National Weather Service says no to naming storms". WKYC-TV. Retrieved February 10, 2013. 
  25. ^ a b "Why Your Weatherman Is Protesting the Name 'Nemo' - National". The Atlantic. 2013-02-08. Retrieved 2013-02-16. 
  26. ^ Lake Effect Page. National Weather Service Buffalo office (June 28, 2013). Retrieved from the Internet Archive March 22, 2015.
  27. ^ Samenow, Jason (2012-10-03). "TV weathercasters criticize unilateral action by The Weather Channel on storm naming". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2013-02-16. 
  28. ^ Niziol, Tom (November 11, 2012). "Why The Weather Channel is Naming Winter Storms". The Weather Channel. Retrieved February 11, 2013. 
  29. ^ Stelter, Brian. "A Storm Is 'No One,' and Means Very Little". The New York Times. Retrieved February 9, 2013. 
  30. ^ Mirkinson, Jack (February 8, 2013). "'Nemo' May Be Weather Channel's Name For Northeast Blizzard, But Most Other Outlets Aren't Biting". The Huffington Post. Retrieved February 10, 2013. 

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