Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Name That Winter Storm

Naming winter storms isn't a novel concept.  NBC 10 tried it, and got ridiculed for it, in the 1990's.  Lake effect snows get named by the National Weather Service up in Buffalo.  Storms in Europe are named too.  Of course, we know that tropical cyclones are named and generally most people can agree that it's a system that works more often than not as it's based on meteorological and scientific criteria.

This winter, The Weather Channel is going to try to take this concept and subjectively apply it to winter storms that impact the USA.

The Weather Channel's 2012-13 Storm Name List. Courtesy of TWC.

Say hello to Winter Storm Brutus. Seriously.  The list of names starts with a Roman/Latin influence (Athena and Caesar are the other names that lead off the 2012-13 winter storm slate).  If we get to "Q" on the list, there are some quality names that could quintessentially fit the bill -- Quirinius for starters.

"On a national scale, the most intense winter storms acquire a name through some aspect of pop culture and now social media; for example, Snowmaggeddon and Snotober," says Weather Channel winter weather expert Tom Niziol in USA Today in reference to snowstorms of the past couple of years.

Niziol used to work at the National Weather Service in Buffalo, which has been naming lake effect events for a few years now.

The naming designation will be entirely subjective and based on impact on population areas compared to what's "normal".  A "modest" one foot snowfall over the Cascades might not get a name designation.  However, a one to two inch snowfall in the South during rush hour might according to Niziol.

According to the USA Today article, naming of systems will occur no more than three days before a storm's predicted impact, which I would imagine will allow for plenty of hype awareness to be generated.

One of the challenges with the system is criteria of name designation.  The Weather Channel is already acknowledging the somewhat subjective nature of naming these systems and is basing what is defined as a named storm based solely on predicted precipitation plus societal impact.  This is where naming winter storms gets to be rather tricky -- a six inch snowfall in Buffalo isn't a huge deal but in Washington, DC it would be more substantial.  An Alberta Clipper diving through the Midwest isn't a big deal in Iowa but in Southern Virginia might produce more substantive impact even if both states get three inches of snow.  This is where naming winter storms becomes a rather dicey proposition.  Impacts from three inches of snow will vary widely between Atlanta and the Adirondacks.    Should a weak southern storm system that drops 2" of snow in the Carolinas get a name while a 6" snowfall in Minneapolis from a separate system doesn't?

If The Weather Channel can come up with a more concrete set of data -- perhaps incorporating some form of the NESIS scale that's modified to scale for the whole of the US (snow in the South has more impact than the North) -- then I think the naming game can work provided that the criteria is known and people know where to see the data.  If it's going to be just a "let's name it and hype the hell out of it" ploy, I'm not sure such a strategy is wise and appropriate long term for meteorology.