When the winter winds howl and a blizzard buries your car, the Weather Channel wants you to blame Nemo or Gandalf. In a practice borrowed from Europe, the company said Tuesday it will begin naming winter storms just as meteorologists do with hurricanes and tropical storms.
The Weather Channel’s 2012-13 winter season lineup includes storm-related names like Orko, the thunder god in Basque mythology, and Ukko, the god of sky and weather in Finnish mythology. And then there’s Gandalf, Yogi, Nemo, and Q, New York’s Broadway express subway line.
“Each weather system takes on its own personality,” says Tom Niziol, the Weather Channel’s winter weather expert. “Just the act of attaching a name to a weather system provides an identity to that weather system.”
Winter storms have been named in the past—remember Snowmageddon and Snotober? But an organized system of naming winter storms will raise public awareness of the weather system and make it easier to track its progress and plan ahead, Niziol says.
A storm’s name is also a Twitter hashtag waiting to happen. “If we can hashtag a storm with a name, that leads to a one-stop shop to exchange information about the storm,” Niziol says. During Hurricane Isaac, for example, people tracked the hurricane through tweets and pictures of the storm surge and flooding, and added their stories to the online conversation with the hashtag #Isaac.
The process to name a storm will include analyzing snowfall, ice, wind, and temperature. Storms will receive names no more than three days before their expected impact so the network, which is owned by NBC Universal (CMCSA) and private equity firms Bain Capital and Blackstone Group (BX), can be sure of the storms’ significant impact on a populated area. The only qualification for the list of 26 names was that they are not and have never appeared on the hurricane lists produced by the National Hurricane Center.
Not everyone is enthused about the prospect of Brutus the blizzard. Some argue that names might be confusing if not everyone uses them, writes Jason Samenow in the Washington Post. He cites one of the Weather Channel’s rivals, AccuWeather, which tweeted, “We are concerned about the lack of strict criteria with naming winter storms.” Unlike hurricanes, which are named by government-funded agencies, other media organizations may not feel compelled to use the Weather Channel’s branding monikers.
Having meteorologists name storms is a potentially safer branding alternative to the German custom of letting people and companies pay for rights to name weather systems, as BMW discovered earlier this year. Paying to have “Cooper” and “Minnie” on an approved list for naming weather systems in 2012 may have seemed like a simple promotional ploy, until “the Cooper” killed more than 100 people.
For its inaugural year, the Weather Channel’s list of names is focused instead on “storms with an attitude,” says Niziol, who predicts six to eight weather “events” to warrant a name this winter. First up: Athena, Brutus, and Caesar.