The Weather Channel to Name Winter Storms

The calendar has changed to October and the first significant cold air is on the way for much of the US.  So, I suppose it seemed like a good time for The Weather Channel to announce that it will begin naming winter storms this coming season.  This is something that has been discussed a number of times in recent Winter seasons.  And, in fact, it’s been done on local and regional levels.  The Buffalo National Weather Service has named lake effect snowstorms for years.  Tom Niziol, who used to work at this office is now the Winter Weather Expert for TWC, so I imagine he had a big influence on this initiative.

Of course, if Niziol was involved with this project, you think he would’ve suggested TWC not be so bold about their decision to begin naming Winter storms:

The National Centers for Environmental Prediction’s Hydrologic [sic – it’s Hydrometeorological] Prediction Center (HPC) does issue discussions and snowfall forecasts on a national scale but it does not fill the same role as the [National Hurricane Center] in naming storms.  Therefore, it would be a great benefit for a partner in the weather industry to take on the responsibility of developing a new concept.

This is not “a new concept.”  It has been done before and discussed a great deal in recent years.  Who can forget Snowmageddon in Washington, DC?  I understand this initiative may bring more organization to the naming of storms, but it’s not “a new concept.”

TWC makes some good points about the advantages to naming Winter storms – something that, as they point out, has been done in Europe for decades.

  • Naming a storm raises awareness.
  • Attaching a name makes it much easier to follow a weather system’s progress.
  • A storm with a name takes on a personality all its own, which adds to awareness.
  • In today’s social media world, a name makes it much easier to reference in communication.
  • A named storm is easier to remember and refer to in the future.

In addition to providing information about significant winter storms by referring to them by name, the name itself will make communication and information sharing in the constantly expanding world of social media much easier.  As an example, hash tagging a storm based on its name will provide a one-stop shop to exchange all of the latest information on the impending high-impact weather system.

I generally agree with the points above as it relates to the population at large.  Keep in mind, the National Weather Service will still issue watches and warnings in their local areas.  So, those who consume that information, whether it’s directly from the NWS or through local media outlets will still get information that way.  Those people who may not frequent the NWS web site or watch local news may now have a way of receiving storm information in a timely manner.  I personally look forward to seeing how this new naming system plays out in social media.

So how, exactly, will they determine whether or not a storm gets a name?  This is an important question, and the answers seem troublesome to me:

Often a weather system that is expected to strike a metropolitan area three days from now has not even completely formed in the atmosphere. Therefore, naming of winter storms will be limited to no more than three days before impact to ensure there is moderate to strong confidence the system will produce significant effects on a populated area.

And if the storm is going to affect more rural areas with smaller populations?  Are you just going to ignore it?  It’s not worthy of receiving a name since not as many people will be affected?

This is the part that bothers me the most.  Perhaps I’m misinterpreting this language (or perhaps they did a poor job explaining themselves).  Either way, I’ll be curious to see what happens when a significant snowstorms tracks through Iowa, Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  And what about lake effect events?  Are they included in this?

Here’s some more ambiguity:

In addition, the impacts from winter systems are not as simple to quantify as tropical systems where a system is named once the winds exceed a certain threshold. 

The process for naming a winter storm will reflect a more complete assessment of several variables that combine to produce disruptive impacts including snowfall, ice, wind and temperature.  In addition, the time of day (rush hour vs. overnight) and the day of the week (weekday school and work travel vs. weekends) will be taken into consideration in the process the meteorological team will use to name storms.

If a snowstorm happens overnight Saturday into early Sunday morning, does it even count?  I’m starting to think “The Weather Authority” tag line has gone to TWC’s head.

This is an ambitious project.

I may have used a different adjective.

However, the benefits will be significant. Naming winter storms will raise the awareness of the public, which will lead to more pro-active efforts to plan ahead, resulting in less impact and inconvenience overall.

Or it might become a totally useless running joke that only adds confusion to people’s preparation.  If anyone should be aware of the dangers of forecasting what will happen in the future, it should be TWC.

Finally, it might even be fun and entertaining and that in itself should breed interest from our viewing public and our digital users.  For all of these reasons, the time is right to introduce this concept for the winter season of 2012-13.

Ahh… the truth.  “Fun and entertaining.”  I must admit, the list of storm names is rather entertaining…

It should certainly be “fun and entertaining” to see how this play out during the Winter.

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