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A group of men help push a car up a snow-covered street on Feb. 8, 2013 in Portland, Maine. Photographer: Robert F. Bukaty/AP Photo
If Nemo Were a Rich Man
It’s Saturday in New York, and the Weather Channel is happy to report that Nemo has stuck.
The white powder, yes. But, more importantly, the name.
The Weather Channel launched its effort to christen big winter storms in October, allegedly in order to raise awareness and make the events easier to track, talk about and tweet about. It was a slow start, judging from the fact that we’re already on the 14th letter of the alphabet and didn’t hear quite so much buzz over Athena, Draco or Euclid.
These icy ancients have also spawned quite the meteorological catfight. The Weather Channel doesn’t really have any authority to name storms except for the fact that practically all of the U.S. relies on its services. According to the Weather Company's website: “Across all its platforms - television, online, desktop and mobile - The Weather Channel and weather.com have an 89 percent share of the huge U.S. weather audience.”
Competitors are not impressed. After the Weather Channel announced its project, Dr. Joel N. Myers, the founder and president of AccuWeather, said in a statement: “The Weather Channel has confused media spin with science and public safety. We have explored this issue for 20 years and have found that this is not good science and will mislead the public. Winter storms are very different from hurricanes.” The National Weather Service also refuses to join the naming fun.
But is anyone really surprised that the Weather Channel wants to turn big storms into celebrities? E! has made a family of young women with large behinds and names that start with “K” into Hollywood royalty. TLC has turned a child who competes in beauty pageants into a national sensation. All the Weather Channel has to work with is a load of slush falling from the sky. Props to them for finding a “branding” strategy that’s kind of working.
Still, I have a better plan for next winter. All these weather services and agencies should give up their bickering, join together and sell the rights to name storms for a lot of money. Better yet, auction the names to the highest bidder.
Buying a big storm would be a small price to pay for entry into the history books. People on the streets would be talking about you. You’d get your own hashtag. Turn on the television and meteorologists would be brandishing their pointers, delivering impassioned oratory in your honor. The kids would adore you. Even Kim Kardashian doesn’t have it this good.
Yes, this is also a public relations nightmare waiting to happen. Storms inconvenience people, put them in danger and can take their homes and lives. BMW learned this the hard way last year. In Germany, you can already pay to put your name on a weather system. BMW got an ad agency to put “Cooper” and “Minnie” on the list and then got in a bit over its head when “the Cooper” took more than 100 lives.
The solution to this is to make purchasing naming rights an act of charity. Use the money to plow the streets, get homeless people into shelters and assure all families are warm and fed. Make sure your storm helps more people than it hurts. Turn a little bit of hubris into a whole lot of humanitarian aid.
(Zara Kessler is an assistant editor and producer for Bloomberg View. Follow her on Twitter.)