Weather Channel Storm Names Draw Criticism

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Photo courtesy of sxc.hu.

Alex Veeneman, Opinions Editor

Last February, a blizzard took New York City and the northeastern part of the United States by storm. In the preparations leading up to it, a message on the social networking site Twitter emerged from the office of the city’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg.

The tweet was simple, according to a report in The New York Times, which read: “We’re ready for Nemo.”

The root of the Nemo reference had not gone to the famous Disney-Pixar film of the same name, but went to the name the storm was given by the cable network The Weather Channel. The name was part of a plan announced by the channel last November to prepare for the winter season.

Jazmine Maddox, a spokeswoman for The Weather Channel, said they wanted to raise awareness about forthcoming storms.

“Prior to our announcement to name winter storms, on a national scale, the most intense winter storms acquired a name only by location and year, or more recently, through some aspect of pop culture or social media,” Maddox said. “Meteorologists at The Weather Channel wanted to bring a more systematic approach to naming winter storms, similar to the way tropical storms have been named for years.”

While The Weather Channel has attracted higher ratings during periods of severe weather, and government officials and media outlets have used the names, the move has attracted controversy, with many, according to the Times, seeing it as a marketing campaign for the channel.

Notable criticism comes from the National Weather Service, part of the government that does national forecasts and tracks storms, including blizzards. The Weather Service did not respond to The Flyer’s request for comment.

The Weather Network in Canada (which The Weather Channel owns a small part of in a minority stake) has also criticized the move.

“We don’t support that private media or weather players assume the responsibility of naming winter storms,” said Pierre Morrissette, The Weather Network’s chief executive, in an interview with the Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail. “It’s really government domain — it has decided to name hurricanes with very clear standards and criteria. If every player decided to name storms or issue their own alerts, it would lead to confusion.”

Geoff Coulson, a Warning Preparedness Meteorologist at Environment Canada, the Canadian equivalent of the National Weather Service, said they too had no intentions of naming winter storms.

“Environment Canada’s position is similar to that of the National Weather Service in that we have no plans to name winter storms,” Coulson said. “The naming convention for tropical storms and hurricanes is well-defined and understood.”

Coulson added that winter storms do not face the same type of classification compared to hurricanes and tropical storms.

“Winter storms in both Canada and the U.S. can be quite large and involve many different types of precipitation, and communities can be affected by some or all of these precipitation types depending on the track the storm takes,” Coulson said, adding that Environment Canada and the National Weather Service have developed criteria for storms.

It is traditionally uncommon for winter storms to be named, says Dr. Jerry Kavouras, associate professor of biology and Director of Lewis University’s environmental science program. Yet, Kavouras says that the move by The Weather Channel indicates a public awareness angle, and is good advertising for the industry.

“In the end, it all comes down to whether or not the daily news will use the names in their reports,” Kavouras said. “If they do, the practice will continue. If they don’t, I don’t foresee it being successful.”

Ryan Tadych, junior radio and TV broadcasting major and presenter of weather reports for Lewis’ WFLY-TV News, said local sources are better outlets of information ahead of a storm, and that The Weather Channel believes this plan would raise awareness on a storm, which is not the case.

“Hurricanes get national (and global sometimes) recognition no matter where you are located,” Tadych said. “If a hurricane is hitting the East Coast, we know about it here in Chicago. We know the name, and everything about it. However, that is not always the case with a winter storm. Sure, the big blizzards we are aware of, but some of the smaller ones we are not aware of.”

Maddox said that The Weather Channel plans to continue naming winter storms, and added that over time, The Weather Channel hoped the National Weather Service would adopt a similar model to name winter storms.

“It (the winter storm naming system) improves our severe-weather coverage, making communication and information sharing easier, enabling consumers to better understand forecasts that could significantly affect their lives,” Maddox said.

Alex Veeneman
Alex Veeneman's a journalist and a fan of music, public broadcasting, hockey and soccer. Veeneman is interested in world news and stories about the media. News Editor| Click here for Alex's Archives

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