The World Meteorological Organization in Geneva for years has named tropical storms and hurricanes such as the recent Sandy. This anthropomorphic naming of such storms certainly helps headline writers and enables people to identify storms easier (while causing anybody who happens to have said name to suffer the verbal consequences.)
Atlanta-based Weather Channel last month unilaterally announced it would start naming winter storms for the same reason. The first one that hit New York this week was called Athena.
The National Weather Service sent out a note disclaiming that it was responsible for the name and not to use it in its own references to particular storms: “TWC has named the Nor’easter ‘Athena..’ The NWS does not use name (sic) winter storms in our products. Please refrain from using the term Athena in any of our products.”
It also released this statement to the press explaining why it doesn’t name winter storms:
“The National Weather Service has no opinion about private weather enterprise products and services. 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. While the National Weather Service does not name winter storms, we do rate major winter storms after the fact.”
(Please see: http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/snow-and-ice/rsi/nesis)
Here’s part of the original Weather Channel explanation why it chose to start naming winter storms on its own:
In time for the start of the winter season, naming storms makes communications and information sharing easier, enabling consumers to better understand forecasts that could significantly affect their lives.
“On a national scale, the most intense winter storms acquire a name through some aspect of pop culture and now, social media, for example Snowmaggeddon and Snotober,” said Tom Niziol, winter weather expert for The Weather Channel Companies. “Retrospectively naming lake effect storms has been a local success at The National Weather Service office in Buffalo, NY as well as with Weather Services throughout Europe and we believe it can be a useful tool on a national scale in the U.S.”
The Weather Channel has the meteorological ability, support and technology to bring a more systematic approach to naming winter storms, similar to the way tropical storms have been named for years, staying true to its mission to keep the public safe and informed in times of severe-weather events. During the winter months, many people are impacted by freezing temperatures, flooding and power outages, travel disruptions and other impacts caused by snow and ice storms. The new naming system will raise awareness and reduce the risks, danger, and confusion for consumers in the storms’ paths.
A group of senior meteorologists chose the 26 names (one for each letter of the alphabet) on the 2012-2013 winter storm list. The only criteria: choose names that are not and have never been on any of the hurricane lists produced by the National Hurricane Center or National Weather Service. Naming will occur no more than three days prior to a winter storms expected impact to ensure there is strong confidence the system could have a significant effect on large populations.
If you’re curious about the history of naming hurricanes and tropical storms, here’s a good summary.