Plan to name winterstorms gets cold shoulder

Last modified: Sunday, November 11, 2012

PHIILADELPHIA — If you pay any attention to hurricanes, you probably are well familiar with the likes of Alberto, Beryl, Chris, and Isaac.

Now, are you ready for Athena, Brutus, Caesar, and Iago? Those are the names that the Weather Channel plans to hang on winter storms this season.

The nation’s biggest commercial weather player announced Tuesday that it would start naming winter storms with the winter of 2012-13, similar to how the National Hurricane Center has designated hurricanes during the last six decades.

Why bother? In its release, the Weather Channel said the naming “makes communications and information sharing easier, enabling consumers to better understand forecasts that could significantly affect their lives.

The idea was greeted somewhat icily elsewhere in the weather community.

Officially, in a statement the National Weather Service said it “has no opinion about private weather enterprise products and services.”

But the statement went on to identify one of the hazards of the naming trade: “A winter storm’s impact can vary from one location to another, and storms can weaken and redevelop, making it difficult to define where one ends and another begins.”

TWC boasted that it was the first “national organization in North America” to name winter storms, although the idea is hardly an original one.

NBC 10 meteorologist Glenn Schwartz said he experimented with it 26 years ago when he worked in New York.

“I guess we were ahead of our time,” he said. “But it’s different with a national entity.” He said if anyone was doing it, it would be best if it were the National Weather Service.

“But since TWC is doing it, there’s no way their competitors will follow. One concern is that a competitor starts using their own names. Then it gets confusing.”

Schwartz said some of the questions to resolve include when to apply a name. “Some big ones can be predicted days in advance. Do they name it before it even forms?” he said in a blog item.

“Are there different people doing the naming? Some may be more ‘trigger-happy.’”

All that said, Schwartz added that given TWC’s size, “If anyone is going to do this, I’m glad it’s them.”

TWC said it would choose names that are not and have never been on a hurricane list.

Not all the names have a classical bent. The “q” storm would be simply “Q,” for a New York subway line; “r” would be “Rocky,” as in mountain, not Balboa.

TWC said the naming would “no more than three days prior to a winter storm’s expected impact.”


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