In what appears to be blatant angling to acquire naming rights to Syfy's next godawful movie about winter storms full of tribbles or whatever, The Weather Channel named this week's major snowstorm "Winter Storm Vulcan," because they really want us to take them seriously.
The Weather Channel began naming winter storms amid a flurry of controversy starting in the winter of 2012. The Atlanta-based weathertainment network claims to have started naming winter storms to make it easier to track them (akin to the reasoning behind naming hurricanes), but unlike tropical systems, there is no hard-and-fast standard by which the network assigns a storm a name.
The company admitted in 2012 that the naming of a storm is purely subjective on the part of their meteorologists:
The process for naming a winter storm will reflect a more complete assessment of several variables that combine to produce disruptive impacts including snowfall, ice, wind and temperature. In addition, the time of day (rush hour vs. overnight) and the day of the week (weekday school and work travel vs. weekends) will be taken into consideration in the process the meteorological team will use to name storms.
This wishy-washy standard actually makes a little bit of sense from a meteorological standpoint. While there are defined meteorological conditions required to declare a system a tropical storm, each winter storm has unique characteristics that make it burdensome in its own right.
However, just this past year, The Weather Channel approached the line of admitting the true intent behind winter storm names without outright saying it:
Hashtags are an intrinsic part of social media, and a storm name proved to be the best way to efficiently and systematically convey storm information. Storm-name hashtags have been used with tropical storms and hurricanes for years, and Winter Storm Nemo's billion-plus impressions on Twitter last winter demonstrated that the same system is ideal for winter storms as well.
The Weather Channel isn't naming winter storms to make it easier for you to track them from the comfort of your living room. The Weather Channel is naming winter storms to make you watch The Weather Channel. When you see "Winter Storm #Vulcan" on Twitter or Facebook and want to learn more, the only results that will come up when you google it are links to weather.com. If nobody else is talking about Winter Storm Cleon, the general public looking for information will tune into the only place using the name they're familiar with. The scheme is a clever social media advertising campaign that makes you do all the work for them.
Even though some state governments and a few companies have taken up using the names promulgated by the NBC/Comcast-owned company, the only news organizations actually calling storms "Xerxes" or "Vulcan" are The Weather Channel, NBC affiliates, and Wunderground (which is owned by The Weather Company).
The United States government's official weather forecasting agency, the National Weather Service, had to issue a statement reminding the public (and its own forecasters) that the agency does not name winter storms.
Critics of the critics of the winter storm naming scheme repeatedly bring up the fact that Europe names its winter storms, too, but even there the practice is sporadic and rarely uniform in its application.
While the company continues to rebuff critics by continuing to name winter storms, the response by citizens of the internet is a collective "you've got to be Vulcan kidding me." (Yuk yuk yuk).
And in a rush to kill any fun the internet will poke at them, TWC's meteorologists are already jumping out ahead of the storm to preemptively wring out any and all Star Trek jokes.
[Images via TrekNews and The Weather Channel]