Why Is The Weather Channel Naming Winter Storms?

Did You Survive Winter Storm Athena, Brutus, or Caesar?

If you watched the Weather Channel at all this winter season you noticed a new change. They started to name winter storms. Everyone knows how tropical systems are named, but what changed this year over at the Weather Channel?

The first storm of the 2012-2013 winter season,  a nor’easter, was named after the Greer Goddess for wisdom. When I first heard about this I was mildly intimidated. Instinctively, Athena seemed like it was going to be a major storm. The last named storm, Hurricane Sandy, devastated the tri-state area. Naming a weather system implies severity, widespread damage, and travel disruptions.

Winter Storm Athena Was No Hurricane Sandy

Here in central New Jersey, there were only a few inches. Roads were perfectly clear the following morning. While Winter Storm Athena arrived rather early in the season, it was very tame. It did not cause anywhere near the devastation of other named tropical systems. However, it did hamper Hurricane Sandy’s recovery effort.

The Real Reason Behind It

It comes down to ratings. Jim Cantore and the Weather Channel crew get away with this by creating hype, a narrative to follow, and a new way to catalog events. Watching snow fall becomes entertainment. The name creates a story to follow with popular appeal instead of a meteorological phenomenon. It’s fairly easy to fool people to go out, purchase extra food, and sit home to watch your programming. The Weather Channel and local news organizations have now mastered this.

It’s amazing what the Weather Channel thinks is entertainment. I  viewed some of the coverage. They had one correspondent broadcasting throughout the evening from a parking lot in Philadelphia. He spent his time explaining how pavement cools slower when wet. He ran around the parking lot pointing out how snow was beginning to accumulate over the cracks; an area with relatively dry pavement. (I tried to find this footage. If anyone is successful please let me know)

Winter Storm Naming Backlash From the National Weather Service

The Weather Channel’s decision warranted a press release from the National Weather Service asking meteorologists to refrain from naming winter storms. The NWS only names tropical systems that develop into hurricanes as they cause the most destruction and have a widespread impact versus a regional winter storm.

The Weather Channel is a commercial broadcasting organization owned by NBC Universal. They want to generate ratings to increase ad revenue. Here you can view the explanation of the new strategy. The National Weather Service is a US federal government agency under the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration.

The day after Athena, the Weather Channel named its next prime-time weather event, Winter Storm Brutus. Next time you’re glued to the next big weather event, keep in mind weather is business and someone is trying to make money. I recommend monitoring your weather at Weather.gov, the National Weather Service’s official site; ad-free, no pop-ups, or annoying videos that play automatically and slow your computer.

James F Gibbons

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