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

The Weather Channel’s chief meteorologist says some winter storms get names anyway, pointing to 2010’s Snowmageddon, shown here.

Associated Press (2010)

The Weather Channel’s chief meteorologist says some winter storms get names anyway, pointing to 2010’s Snowmageddon, shown here.

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 mlang@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3386 or on Twitter @Marissa_Jae.

Winter storm names

During the coming 2012-13 winter season the Weather Channel will name noteworthy winter storms. Below is the list of names, along with some information about their origins, from the channel.

Athena: The Greek goddess of wisdom, courage, inspirations, justice and mathematics, among other things.

Brutus: A Roman senator and the best known assassin of Julius Caesar.

Caesar: The title used by Roman and Byzantine emperors after Julius Caesar.

Draco: The first legislator of Athens in Ancient Greece.

Euclid: A mathematician in Ancient Greece and the father of geometry.

Freyr: A Norse god associated with fair weather, among other things.

Gandolf: A character in the 1896 fantasy novel The Well at the World's End, which is believed to have inspired J.R.R. Tolkein's Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Helen: In Greek mythology, Helen of Troy was the daughter of Zeus.

Iago: The antagonist in Shakespeare's play Othello.

Jove: The English name for Jupiter, the Roman god of light and sky.

Khan: A Mongolian conqueror and emperor of the Mongol empire.

Luna: The divine embodiment of the moon in Roman mythology.

Magnus: The Latin word for "great," here taken from Emperor Charlemagne's Latin name, Carolus Magnus.

Nemo: "Nobody" in Latin.

Orko: The thunder god in Basque mythology.

Plato: Greek philosopher and mathematician.

Q: The Broadway Express subway line in New York City.

Rocky: A mountain in the Rockies.

Saturn: The Roman god of time, also the namesake of the planet in our solar system.

Triton: In Greek mythology, the messenger of the deep sea, son of Poseidon and Amphitrite.

Ukko: In Finnish mythology, the god of the sky and weather.

Virgil: One of ancient Rome's great poets.

Walda: A name from Old German meaning "ruler."

Xerxes: The fourth king of the Persian Achaemenid Empire.

Yogi: A person who does yoga.

Zeus: In Greek mythology, the supreme ruler of Mount Olympus and all other Greek gods.

Weather Channel's decision to name winter storms has forecasters fuming 10/07/12 [Last modified: Sunday, October 7, 2012 8:02pm]
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