Names have power.
A name turns a stray dog into a beloved family pet, and turns a system of wind and rain into a tropical storm to be feared. It’s a concept as old as mythology and the reason The Weather Channel recently decided to start naming winter storms.
“Naming winter storms will raise awareness,” Tom Niziol of The Weather Channel said in a statement, “which will lead to more pro-active efforts to plan ahead, resulting in less impact on the public overall.”
According to The Weather Channel website, tropical storms have been named for decades, and it’s time for winter storms to get in on the action.
The idea is to prompt the general public to pay more attention to storms and thus stay safe. To better convey the correct level of seriousness, The Weather Channel has laid out a series of powerful-sounding names.
So far this year, the Georgia-based company has already dubbed two winter storms Athena and Brutus, a Greek goddess and powerful Roman emperor, respectively. Future storm names include mythological gods Saturn, Ukko and Zeus, who was known for lobbing lightning bolts down to earth.
The Weather Channel could not be reached for comment Thursday, but its decision drew some criticism in the meteorological community. In the Capital Region, Channel 13 meteorologist Bob Kovachick didn’t think the names would make anyone safer.
“I think it’s sort of foolish actually,” he said. “It’s just building hype and it’s going to confuse people.”
He pointed out that tropical storms are named for clarity of communication, not to raise public awareness.
“There is often more than one hurricane forming out over the Atlantic,” he said. “I rarely see more than one winter storm brewing at the same time.”
Tropical storms are named alphabetically by the National Hurricane Center. When a tropical storm develops sustained winds of at least 39 mph over the Atlantic, it earns a name.
If it turns into a hurricane and comes ashore to wreak havoc, that name is retired and never used again. For instance, there will never be another Hurricane or Tropical Storm Irene. There is a strict system in place.
“There is zero criteria for naming winter storms,” said AccuWeather.com meteorologist Brian Edwards. “Blizzards are hard to predict. You could be getting rain while another area gets buried by snow, so naming will be subjective based on population centers rather than actual severity.”
Because the names aren’t part of an established system, they won’t be universally used across all media.
Kovachick and Edwards agreed that under no circumstances would they ever use The Weather Channel’s winter storm names.
“And I can’t see any other meteorologists using them either,” Kovachick said.
They pointed out that a cobbled-together system, with some channels calling a storm Zeus and others calling it simply a nor’easter, might actually confuse people rather than making them more prepared.
The Weather Channel website states that naming winter storms “might even be fun and entertaining and that in itself should breed interest from our viewing public and our digital users.”
Kovachick had a more blunt explanation.
“I think it’s something they’re doing for ratings,” he said.
Whatever the reason, this winter the Capital Region will gather snow from a series of mythical deities rather than simple snowstorms.
The National Weather Service declined to comment on the matter.