Winter storm naming in the United States
Officially, the science community only names tropical cyclones (since the 1940's ). No other weather storms or weather systems are named. In the United States, the National Weather Service only gives names to hurricanes due to their significant impacts are threat to life and property.
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 the 2010s[update], 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 the process of naming them both difficult and redundant. On the other side of the argument those in favor of naming storms argue that the names help people with preparation. 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.
Critics have also argued that media outlets name winter storms to hype them for marketing reasons (ratings).
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. Another noteworthy storm that hit the great plains in 1888 was dubbed "The Schoolhouse Blizzard" or "Children's Blizzard". Naming would be used again in 1905 for The Mataafa Storm that occurred on the Great Lakes. 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. 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 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. The Weather Channel argued that the winter storm names would improve communications of storm warnings and help reduce storm impacts. 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.
Naming by The Weather Channel
In November 2012, TWC began systematically naming winter storms, starting with the November 2012 nor'easter it named "Winter Storm Athena." 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. TWC's decision was met with criticism from other weather forecasters, who called the practice self-serving and potentially confusing to the public. 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.
A few of the winter storm names used by March 2013 include Athena, Brutus, Caesar, Gandolf, Khan, and Nemo. 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. On October 2, 2014, The Weather Channel released 25 new names with the 26th "W" to be voted on by viewers. Since then, various names have been chosen by The Weather Channel for each subsequent winter season.
United States government naming policy
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. In a November 2012 memo, it requested that its employees avoid referring to storms by name. 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." The National Weather Service office in Buffalo, New York named lake-effect snow storms in its coverage area through the 2012–13 season. 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.
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." 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."
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. However, some outlets such as New York mayor Michael Bloomberg's office used the Twitter hashtag "#nemo" to refer to the storm. 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.
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. 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.
- Winter storm naming in the United Kingdom and Ireland
- Tropical cyclone naming
- Weather wars
- Zielinski and Keim, pg. 181
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