Naming storms for fun and profit

The Weather Channel – it could be some people don’t know this – is a private company, not a government agency. The Weather Channelers looked at named tropical storms and said, hey: Shouldn’t winter storms be named, too?

No. No, they shouldn’t.

Oh, I understand their argument: Names help raise awareness, make storms easier to track, easier to follow on social media …

Easier to get big ratings.

In the 1940’s the National Weather Service began naming tropical storms, and ever since then they’ve become almost living entities. In 1900, a hurricane killed at least 8,000 people in the Galveston, Texas area, the deadliest US weather disaster ever, but who talks about it? No, they talk about Hazel in ’54, or Camille, Hugo, Andrew, or of course Katrina.

Yes, winter storms can be just as bad, and even more widespread, and maybe we in the northern climates should be jealous that our cousins along the coast get more attention. But they don’t have that defined shape (winter storms that is, not our cousins along the coast). When deciding whether they get a name, TWC has been reduced to generalities that make me think the final choice comes down to flipping a coin, or maybe a snow angel competition. The criteria:

Snow.

Also extreme temperatures or wind, a significant effect on travel, and if it’s something that network thinks people need to know about. I think there’s an internal memo somewhere that added in, “If it will increase ratings.”

Let’s face it, we’re talking publicity. And is it necessary? How much cable competition does The Weather Channel have when it comes to weather coverage? When you want to know about driving conditions at 4 a.m. before your big trip, do you check ESPN? CNN? Any N?

TWC does face competition now, but only because they walked away from their main reason for being – telling us about the weather – and jumped into the “reality” TV business. Oh, here’s a show about building skyscrapers. Here’s one about repairing wind turbines. Here’s one about astronomy.

“But Mark, weather does affect people doing that work.”

Yeah, it affects everyone. Are we going to have a show about IRS agents having to battle low humidity in their offices?

“Then, just as Bill is preparing to begin the audit, a static electricity catastrophe … next, on “Paper Pushers.”

Remember when The Weather Channel used to cover … oh, I don’t know … the weather? Now, when I want to find out what the actual weather is like, I turn the TV from TWC.

My main problem with this new plan is that they didn’t think ahead to how many names they might need. They don’t seem to have considered how very many major snowstorms there can be in a season – some affecting only a state or a mountain range, some the entire country. We’re on what, now – Euclid?

(Euclid? Seriously?)

And Euclid, the fifth named storm, comes as winter is only beginning. It’s unusual for a Hurricane season to make it all the way through the alphabet, but it’s going to happen to snowstorms all the time.

I checked: The National Weather Service only uses the first 21 letters in the alphabet during hurricane season, then shifts to the Greek alphabet starting with Alpha. Poor, underutilized X! The record for named tropical storms came in 2005, and stopped with Zeta – the 27th.

It won’t be so easy for winter storms:

“Folks, Winter Storm Xylophone is fading away in the east, but watch out: Yogi is hitting the Midwest hard, and Zyxt is coming ashore on the Oregon coast.”

Then what? Aardvark?

By the way, while I made the other two up, Yogi is actually on TWC list of named winter storms. I suspect we’ll see it around early February, around the time Jellystone Park opens.

If there’s one bright spot, it’s that TWC apparently hired true nerds to name their storms. My suggestion was to go with season appropriate names, which make you think of cold and misery: Crystal, Frosty, Icelyn, Rudolph, Hillary.

But the TWC geeks were much more imaginative, and, well, geeky:

There’s Walda and Gadalf, characters from “The Lord of the Rings.”

Orko, who I’m told is from “Masters of the Universe.”

Q and Khan, from “Star Trek.”

Jove, Luna, Saturn, Triton, Xerxes … maybe names from ancient cultures, or maybe from various bodies in our solar system. When you’re talking nerds, it could be both. (Jupiter is the “Jovian” planet. I’m not making this up.)

Iago, Brutus, and Caesar, who are Shakespearean characters and also kids who used to beat me up in middle school.

Rocky, who beats up everybody. I’m told Draco is also from the “Rocky” movies, but based on the other names I tend to think he comes from “Harry Potter.”

Nemo, who was a submarine captain or a lost fish.

And of course Yogi, who could be from baseball or Bear. It ain’t over ‘till the fat snowman sings, Mr. Ranger.

I suppose, in the end, it’s not that big of a deal. These days I only turn on The Weather Channel long enough to confirm they’re not talking about the weather, then go to the Internet to see if we’re being hit by Wendy or Walda.

I guess they need viewers to replace me.

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