Tempest Brews Over TV Channel's Decision to Name StormsSome meteorologists fear The Weather Channel's decision will confuse people
The Weather Channel's announcement this week that it will begin naming noteworthy winter storms has caused a storm of its own in the world of weather forecasting.
The cable channel argued that naming powerful storms will increase public awareness of them, in the same way that the naming of hurricanes by the World Meteorological Assn. boosts awareness of those storms.
"Our goal," the cable channel said, "is to better communicate the threat and the timing of the significant impacts that accompany these events. The fact is, a storm with a name is easier to follow, which will mean fewer surprises and more preparation."
But others aren't so sure. AccuWeather, a competitor, issued a press release Wednesday arguing that the Weather Channel's "unilateral" decision will only confuse people.
"Hurricanes have a life of many days and often weeks, move deliberately, and primarily affect a well-defined area of impact in all four quadrants, centered around the Eye-Path," the company said. "By contrast, winter storms are often erratic, affecting different areas unevenly. Winter storms often develop, dissipate, and reform with two to three centers, often delivering snow in only one quadrant, while places not too far away from a blizzard may experience rain or fog, or nothing at all. As a result, the public will not know what action to take when there is a 'named' storm, or may take the wrong action."
Some meteorologists don't object to the concept of naming winter storms but take issue with The Weather Channel's approach.
Meteorologist Nate Johnson, who writes the Digital Meteorologist blog, argued that The Weather Channel's decision was akin to throwing the National Weather Service and other forecasters "under the bus."
"One of the tenets of good risk and emergency communication is that communicators speak with one voice," he wrote. "That doesn't mean everyone says the same thing; rather, it means those involved should speak in harmony with others. That's hard to do when one member of the choir is singing their own song and won't share the sheet music with everyone else."
A hurricane specialist with The Weather Channel said in an interview that social media sites like Twitter helped drive the company's decision.
Last October we started using "Snowtober" as a hashtag in Weather Channel tweets to refer to that bad winter storm, and [it] took on a life of its own. In the modern social media world things are going to get tagged and we need a hashtag for events. This prompted us to look hard it at through the winter last year, and ask can we do this? If we don't do this, we decided, somebody is going to do this. Instead of coming up with names on the fly, we decided to take this middle ground of having a set of names.
The Weather Channel has already released its list of names, which range from Athena to Zeus. Will they become widely accepted or simply create confusion? Time will tell.
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