Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Tampa Bay Weather

Weather Channel's decision to name winter storms has forecasters fuming

Drought. Record heat. Hurricanes.

One might think weather forecasters have enough on their plates.

But a move by the Weather Channel to start naming winter storms is causing a major dustup in meteorology circles.

Some forecasters and broadcast networks are labeling it a power play and publicity stunt.

"No way are we using those names," said Bay News 9 chief meteorologist Mike Clay. "Who died and made them king?"

As with hurricanes, winter storm names will be alphabetical — Athena, Brutus, Caesar, etc.

Most are mythological references; Greek and Roman gods dominate the list. But there's also a wizard from Middle Earth, a Shakespearean villain, a mountain, a poet and Q, the New York City subway line.

"We looked at the most popular names of the 20th century, the most popular names of this year," Weather Channel meteorologist Tom Niziol said. "But we settled on the Greek and Roman group to be distinctively different than any hurricane names."

It's unlikely these names will be confused with anything else since apparently no one but the Weather Channel will be using them.

That includes the National Weather Service, the most relied-upon weather agency in the country.

"They're a private company, and this is their product," said meteorologist Daniel Noah, warning coordinator for the weather service in Tampa Bay. "We're going to continue predicting winter storms like we usually do. We won't be using the names."

The Weather Channel hopes that won't matter.

Using social media such as Twitter and Facebook, the channel hopes these names will take on a life of their own.

"Storms are getting named anyway," Weather Channel senior meteorologist Johnathan Erdman said. He recalled "Snowmageddon," the snowstorm over several days that paralyzed much of the Northeast in 2010.

"If it doesn't have a name, a storm doesn't get the same kind of attention," said Stu Ostro, senior director of weather communications for the channel.

The National Hurricane Center has been naming storms for more than a half-century.

But this is not the same, Noah said.

Tropical systems have a starting point. They are named when wind speeds reach 39 mph. Cyclical and organized in nature, these storms can be mapped, and the name follows until a storm sputters to a stop.

None of that can be said for winter storm systems, Noah said.

"Winter storms change in time and space and impact constantly," he said.

That's why the Weather Channel will only name storms as much as 72 hours in advance, officials said.

A storm's impact will be assessed on the basis of its predicted snowfall, ice, temperature and a region's preparedness, meaning the same snowstorm would be weighed differently in Minnesota than in Georgia.

Many meteorologists think this will lead to confusion.

"When you're trying to deliver information about potentially devastating weather events, the No. 1 thing you need to worry about is clarity," Clay said. "This is going to cause nothing but confusion."

Marissa Lang can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3386 or on Twitter @Marissa_Jae.

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