Winter storm naming in the United States

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
The "Mataafa Storm" of 1905 was named after SS Mataafa, which was wrecked during the storm.

Winter storm naming in the United States has been used sporadically since the mid-1700s in various ways to describe historical winter storms. These names have been coined using schemes such as the days of the year that the storm impacted or noteworthy structures that the storm had damaged and/or destroyed. In the 2010s, winter storm naming became controversial with The Weather Channel coming up with its own list of names for winter storms similar to that of hurricanes. The marketing of weather became a big part of media revenue by the 1990s (see Weather media in the United States). Various other media outlets soon followed The Weather Channel with their own naming lists. Most government and research meteorologists argue that winter storms can reform more than once, making the process of naming them both difficult and redundant. Entities from the United States government, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Weather Service (NWS), have stated that they would not be naming winter storms, and have asked others to refrain from doing so.


Winter storm naming in the United States goes back to the 1700s when a snowstorm dubbed "The Great Snow of 1717" hit the colonies of New England in 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 Oregon in 1962 called the Columbus Day Storm, 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 dubbed the "Storm of the Century". While in 1997, a blizzard that impacted the Northeastern United States was called 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, The Weather Channel (TWC) began naming winter storms, starting with the November 2012 nor'easter that it named "Winter Storm Athena".[7] TWC compiled a list of winter storm names for the 2012–13 winter season. It would name only 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 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] Since then, various names have been chosen by The Weather Channel for each subsequent winter season.[18][19][20]

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.[21] In a November 2012 memo, it requested that its employees avoid referring to storms by name.[9][22] 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."[23] The National Weather Service office in Buffalo, New York named lake-effect snow storms in its coverage area through the 2012–13 season.[24] In 2013, the office removed references to its previous history of naming those storms and now only refers to the storms by date. The National Weather Service has since stated that "no plans to consider naming winter storms" are in progress.[25]


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][26] 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."[27] Media organizations such as The New York Times and The Washington Post later stated that they would not use a name such as "Winter Storm Nemo" for the February 2013 nor'easter.[14][28] However, some outlets such as New York mayor Michael Bloomberg's office used the Twitter hashtag "#nemo" to refer to the storm.[29] Tom Kines of AccuWeather stated, "The Weather Channel probably names the storms because it gets the publicity." TWC relies on its TV audience and page views for revenue as the weather service is privately owned.[23] Other claims include TWC naming the storms as a form of an advertisement campaign.[30] Other stations/organizations have decided to use their own naming system, which only adds to the confusion that abounds.

Doctoral candidate Adam Rainear from the University of Connecticut stated that the names do not add credibility based on a study he had done on impacts.[31] Rainear argues that hurricane names were adopted as a useful tool for mariners to help warn ships of the storm's path. He points out though, that no "data" supports the notion of The Weather Channel drawing in more people by naming winter storms.[32] The AP Stylebook issued an update in 2018 advising that "Major storm names provided by government weather agencies, the European Union or World Meteorological Organization are acceptable." then went on to say "Do not use names created by private agencies or other organizations." This change affects news and media sources that rely on The Associated Press.[33]

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. ^ Doyle Rice (October 18, 2016). "Ready for Winter Storm Blanche? Weather Channel releases list of storm names". USA Today. Retrieved November 19, 2016.
  21. ^ "What's the big deal with naming winter storms?". Retrieved February 9, 2013.
  22. ^ Walter, Marcus (November 7, 2012). "National Weather Service says no to naming storms". WKYC-TV. Retrieved February 10, 2013.
  23. ^ a b "Why Your Weatherman Is Protesting the Name 'Nemo' - National". The Atlantic. 2013-02-08. Retrieved 2013-02-16.
  24. ^ Lake Effect Page. National Weather Service Buffalo office (June 28, 2013). Retrieved from the Internet Archive March 22, 2015.
  25. ^ Doyle Rice (October 18, 2016). "Ready for Winter Storm Blanche? Weather Channel releases list of storm names". USA Today. Retrieved March 14, 2017.
  26. ^ Samenow, Jason (2012-10-03). "TV weathercasters criticize unilateral action by The Weather Channel on storm naming". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2013-02-16.
  27. ^ Niziol, Tom (November 11, 2012). "Why The Weather Channel is Naming Winter Storms". The Weather Channel. Retrieved February 11, 2013.
  28. ^ Stelter, Brian. "A Storm Is 'No One,' and Means Very Little". The New York Times. Retrieved February 9, 2013.
  29. ^ 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.
  30. ^ Mersereau, Dennis. "The Weather Channel's Winter Storm Names Are a Cheap Advertising Ploy". Gawker. Retrieved 2019-11-27.
  31. ^ "No Access What's in a #Name? An Experimental Study Examining Perceived Credibility and Impact of Winter Storm Names". American Meteorological Society. doi:10.1175/WCAS-D-16-0037.1. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  32. ^ Kenneth Best (December 14, 2017). "The Impact of Winter Storm Names". University of Connecticut. Retrieved December 14, 2017.
  33. ^ Merrill Perlman (May 7, 2018). "New AP Stylebook guidelines, influenced by #MeToo, hurricanes, and online polls". Columbia Journalism Review. Archived from the original on June 20, 2018. Retrieved October 29, 2018.

External links[edit]