Named Winter Storms, It’s Coming!

Yes, it’s about to happen! The Weather Channel has recently decided to give names to winter storms just like tropical systems. Get ready for Winter Storm (ready for this Lord of the Rings fans?) “Gandolf”. Or even Winter Storm “Rocky”. (No, I’m not making these names up, they are actually on this year’s inaugural winter storm list).

All joking aside, this is quite the concept. Names for tropical systems have been around for over 60 years. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the big reason for naming tropical systems is communication, “Experience shows that the use of short, distinctive names in written as well as spoken communications is quicker and less subject to error than the older, more cumbersome latitude-longitude identification methods.” This practice has no doubt increased awareness over the years for tropical systems due to the fact that this naming method is almost universally accepted across the weather world. Which begs the question, will naming a winter storm have the same effect?

Here are a couple of things I will be paying close attention too:

A winter storm is nowhere near as easy to define as a tropical system.  Many times a winter storm will have no presence on a visible satellite or radar until just days before it hits, I would think this could become confusing. Tropical storms and hurricanes are typically named as far as a week out before they affect land making it easier to see and identify with them on satellite and radar.

Will the naming of winter storms generate unnecessary hype? Winter weather forecasting is no cake walk! The determining line between 12 inches of snow and maybe 3 or 4 inches of snow can be a matter of 50 miles, and another 50 miles away may just be freezing rain and sleet!  This line of where the different types of precipitation set up sometimes isn’t well-defined until the day of impact.

Will we see a general consensus among public and private weather entities with this idea? Weather is all about communication. The million dollar question is this –  will naming winter storms ultimately better prepare the public for potentially life threatening storms?

Here’s what a couple of different organizations have publicly said regarding the issue thus far:

via National Weather Service…“The National Weather Service has no opinion about private weather enterprise products and services. A winter storm’s impact can vary from one location to another, and storms can weaken and redevelop, making it difficult to define where one ends and another begins. While the National Weather Service does not name winter storms, we do rate major winter storms after the fact” 

via Accuweather (a large private weather company)…

“In unilaterally deciding to name winter storms, The Weather Channel has confused media spin with science and public safety. We have explored this issue for 20 years and have found that this is not good science and will mislead the public. Winter storms are very different from hurricanes.

Personally for something like this to be effective I would think coordination among a variety of weather organizations needs to be in place, we’ll see how it all pans out this winter!

-Kyle

Here is a link to The Weather Channel’s reasoning for naming winter storms,

http://www.weather.com/news/why-we-name-winter-storms-20121001

Here is a Link to the National Weather Service and their reasoning for naming tropical systems

http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/aboutnames_history.shtml

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