Heated debate: Should we name winter storms?

Posted at 1:40 PM, Jun 28, 2013
and last updated 2013-06-28 13:48:40-04

As Hampton Roads swelters in the summer heat, hundreds of meteorologists are sitting in a Nashville ballroom debating winter storms. More specifically, giving those winter storms names.

Some background: This winter The Weather Channel began giving winter storms names, much like the National Hurricane Center names tropical systems. Bryan Norcross with The Weather Channel says the idea began because of Twitter.  The organization wanted distinct hashtags to make people aware of storms and make each storm distinct from the last one. And in that sense, it’s worked like a charm. Winter storm “Nemo” received 1.2 billion impressions on Twitter!

The idea is a controversial one. The National Weather Service admits it has considered using a naming scheme in the past, but decided against it. The governmental organization says it will not be using The Weather Channel names, but will not be taking an official position on the issue.

Of the 200 meteorologists in this ballroom, just one admits to using the names on the air. I did not use the names and don’t plan to, although I think the hashtag argument is a compelling one. In some sense, we were already naming winter storms before this year. Remember #Snowpocalypse and #Snowmagedon?

Paul Gross, a meteorologist with WDIV in Detroit, called it “pure hype.” But a social scientist on the panel pointed out that giving things names does help raise awareness and does make us pay attention.

Another criticism: We all know the criteria for naming tropical storms and hurricanes, but The Weather Channel doesn’t appear to have any specific meteorological criteria for naming storms.  Instead, they are given names based on expected “impact.”  In other words, a major winter storm in the sparsely populated Dakotas may not receive a name, while a minor storm that affects millions in New York would.

So what do you think?  Should winter storms be named?  Should local broadcasters use the names?  Tell me what you think on my Facebook or Twitter Page:

Patrick Rockey
Chief Meteorologist