No credible agency in the United States names winter storms. That being said, The Weather Channel sent out a press release this morning announcing this year’s list of winter storm names. The project continues the network’s incredibly clever viewer-run advertising campaign.
The Weather Channel began naming winter storms back in 2012 as a way to help residents keep track of winter storms—the same reason we’ve given hurricanes proper names since the 1950s. However, The Weather Channel is the only outlet in the United States that acknowledges and uses these names, as the program is an advertising campaign meant to force you to tune in to their coverage.
The argument goes like this: blizzards that hit major metropolitan areas are widely remembered and often become part of local legend. We remember some major blizzards by the name they were given in the media—the 1993 Superstorm, the Blizzard of 1996, the President’s Day Blizzard of 2002. After social media became prevalent, people started giving these storms “clever” names such as snowpocalypse, snowmageddon, and the classic #snOMG.
The Weather Channel, seeing the tendency for people to name storms on their own, decided to fill the void and come up with its own list of winter storm names. Unlike the hurricane name lists produced by the World Meteorological Organization, which use proper names submitted by member countries, the television network uses mythical and fictional figures to populate the list. This is how thousands wound up screaming about “Winter Storm Nemo” or “Winter Storm Janus” (which took on a life of its own thanks to poor graphics placement).
The criteria set forth by the network is clear as mud, and for good reason! Contrary to hurricane naming conventions—which provide a storm a name based on meteorological criteria, regardless of whether it’s barreling towards New York City or harmlessly meandering in the open ocean—the network’s meteorologists regularly state that they will name a winter storm when it’s expected to have great impacts on a heavily populated area. That is, one inch of snow in Atlanta creates more of an impact that six inches of snow in Lanford, Illinois. The Atlanta storm could get a name while the middle-of-nowhere storm goes unmentioned. It’s a clever way for The Weather Channel to only name winter storms where lots of people live. It’s a ratings jackpot.
The Weather Channel’s list of winter storm names is a brilliant, near-zero-budget advertising campaign that uses you as their mouthpiece. They knew that by going about these winter storm names unilaterally, with zero input from the weather community and attempting to force everyone to fall in line, that The Weather Channel would be the only one talking about “Nemo” or “Brutus” tearing through New York or Washington. When people go to the National Weather Service’s website or check their WeatherBug app, they won’t see anything about Winter Storm Skittlebip. The only place the public will hear those names is on The Weather Channel, so that’s where they’ll turn for weather coverage.
Clever, ain’t it?
The list of names is irrelevant—suffice it to say, whenever it snows in a ratings-rich city, The Weather Channel will be there with graphics blazing—but don’t take my word for it! Here’s what Sam Champion, managing editor for The Weather Channel and anchor for the network’s morning talk show AMHQ, had to say about winter storm names while he was still at Good Morning America (and a few months before The Weather Channel hired him):
Nothing says that the network is the “leader of the weather community” better than hyping up Winter Storm Gorgon. #idontplay indeed.
UPDATE: The Weather Channel’s winter storm expert Tom Niziol responded to this post in the comments. Here is a summary of the quick exchange between him and me, along with a longer response to his points.