Why Does the Weather Channel Name Winter Storms?

Central Park covered in snow during a winter storm in January 2016.
King of Hearts / Wikimedia / CC BY 4.0

The Great Blizzard of 1888. The Perfect Storm. The Storm of the Century. These titles, as well as the loss and damages caused by the winter storms that bear them, will long be remembered by U.S. residents. But is it their titles that make each easy to remember?

The Weather Channel would say yes.

Ever since the 2012-2013 winter season, The Weather Channel (TWC) has given every significant winter storm event it forecasts and tracks a unique name. Their argument for doing this? "It's simply easier to communicate about a complex storm if it has a name," says TWC hurricane specialist Bryan Norcross. Even so, an official system for naming winter storms has never existed in the United States. The closest example would be the National Weather Service (NWS) Buffalo, NY office, which has unofficially named its lake effect snow events for several years. 

Used in TWC Forecasts Only

When it comes to naming winter storms, not all meteorologists agree with Norcross' sentiments.

Besides the Weather Channel, no other leading private or government weather organization has chosen to adopt the practice of using names in their official forecasts. Not the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Weather Service (NWS), nor AccuWeather. One reason for this is that the Weather Channel didn't bother to collaborate or consult with weather bigwigs like NOAA, the American Meteorological Society (AMS), or the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), which oversees hurricane naming, before implementing this new practice.

But their reasons against supporting the Weather Channel's move aren't purely egotistical. Many have true concerns that naming winter storms isn't a good idea. For one, snowstorms are broad and unorganized systems — unlike hurricanes, which are well-defined. Another downside is that snowstorms can cause varying weather conditions from location to location. For example, one region may receive blizzard conditions while another may only see rain, and this could be misleading to the public.  

As a result of this, don't expect to see mentions of "Winter Storm so-and-so" anywhere except in forecasts issued by TWC, Weather Underground (a TWC subsidiary), and NBC Universal (which owns TWC).

How Names Are Chosen

Unlike Atlantic hurricane names, which are chosen by the WMO, the Weather Channel's winter storm names aren't assigned by any one specific group. In 2012 (the first year names were used), the list was compiled by a group of TWC senior meteorologists. In every year since then, that same group has worked with students of Bozeman High School to develop the list.

When choosing winter storm names, only those which have never shown up on any past Atlantic hurricane list are considered. Many of those chosen are taken from Greek and Roman mythology.

Names for the upcoming winter season are typically announced every October — unlike hurricane names, which are recycled every six years.

Criteria for Naming Winter Storms 

How does the Weather Channel decide which storms will be named?

To the chagrin of the professional weather community, there are no strict scientific criteria that must be met before a winter storm can earn a name. Ultimately, the decision is up to TWC senior meteorologists. Some of the things they take into consideration include:

  • If it's evident from the forecast maps and models that the storm is shaping up to be one of historic or record-breaking proportions.
  • If the NWS has issued a winter storm warning.
  • If the storm is forecast to impact an area of at least 400,000 square miles, a population of at least 2 million people, or both.

If the answers to all of the above are "yes," it's very likely the storm will be named. 

Names will generally be assigned at least 48 hours before a storm is forecast to impact a location. Each subsequent winter storm is given the next available name on the list.

The Weather Channel's Winter Storm Names

Weather Channel winter storm names for 2018-2019 are:

Avery, Bruce, Carter, Diego, Eboni Fisher, Gia, Harper, Indra, Jayden, Kai, Lucian, Maya, Nadia, Oren, Petra, Quiana, Ryan, Scott, Taylor, Ulmer, Vaughn, Wesley, Xyler, Yvette, and Zachary.

Regardless of whether you stand on for or against side of the winter storm names debate, remember to take a cue from Shakespeare: a winter storm, by any other name, would still be as hazardous.

Source

Martucci, Joe. "What's in a (winter storm) name?" The Press of Atlantic City, December 4, 2017.

"Winter Storm Names For 2018-19 Revealed." The Weather Channel, October 2, 2018.