Wednesday, October 3, 2012

I Won't Call it "George"

Perhaps you saw the press release from The Weather Channel about naming winter storms. Here is a link to the full press release. I'm just going to highlight a few paragraphs.

"During the upcoming 2012-13 winter season The Weather Channel will name noteworthy winter storms. Our goal is to better communicate the threat and the timing of the significant impacts that accompany these events. The fact is, a storm with a name is easier to follow, which will mean fewer surprises and more preparation.  

Naming Winter Storms

Hurricanes and tropical storms have been given names since the 1940s. In the late 1800s, tropical systems near Australia were named as well. Weather systems, including winter storms, have been named in Europe since the 1950s.  Important dividends have resulted from attaching names to these storms:
  • Naming a storm raises awareness.
  • Attaching a name makes it much easier to follow a weather system’s progress.
  • A storm with a name takes on a personality all its own, which adds to awareness.
  • In today’s social media world, a name makes it much easier to reference in communication.
  • A named storm is easier to remember and refer to in the future."
When I heard this, my initial thought was laughter. "Yeah, right, naming our winter storms. That's just silly." The Weather Channel says they will not use names which have been used by the National Hurricane Center to lessen confusion. But still, who names a winter storm? These things are huge. Unlike a hurricane, which has a clearly defined beginning, a winter storm can take days to develop into something. What crosses Chicago with a half inch of powder can meet up with some other weather system over eastern Tennessee and pound the east coast. How are they really going to know what is a storm to be named?

The Weather Channel answered those questions.

Often a weather system that is expected to strike a metropolitan area three days from now has not even completely formed in the atmosphere. Therefore, naming of winter storms will be limited to no more than three days before impact to ensure there is moderate to strong confidence the system will produce significant effects on a populated area.  In addition, the impacts from winter systems are not as simple to quantify as tropical systems where a system is named once the winds exceed a certain threshold. 

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.

I'm really on the fence about this. Maybe it will help in keeping thing straight and in communicating the need for people to prepare. One of the problems is that weather prediction with storms is still an inexact science. How many times have I battened down my hatches in anticipation of 6-8 inches of snow only have to a cloudy day pass by? What constitutes a "bad storm" by standards in Atlanta is NOT what I consider a bad storm up here. I lived in Southern Indiana for 21 months, 4 weeks and 3 days, not that I kept track. They closed the schools for 1 inch of snow, 1 inch. I howled with laughter. What you need to remember is that they are as ill-equipped to handle 1 inch as we are to handle 3 feet. If the storm goes south and hits the southern US, is it as bad as if it hits the northern US? And what if it organizes over South Carolina and goes right up the coast? What of areas such as Buffalo, New York, which measure their snow in feet and can have 5+ storms a season? Are each one of those going to have names?

I guess we see how this pans out. Commentators on the press release have not been the kindest, seeing this as The Weather Channel's attempt at making themselves newsworthy again. Dr. Jeff Masters points out that, in Europe, people have the ability to pay for naming rights to some storms through the Free University. The money goes into a fund to keep their meteorological department open. I shudder to think what could happen if such a scheme came here, although it's possible that's a next step. I think I would rebel if the great 2011 February blizzard was named "Kim Kardashian".

I did get a huge chuckle out of some of the storm names selected.

Gandolf -- A character in a 1896 fantasy novel in a pseudo-medieval countryside
. No, that's the name of the wizard in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, expertly brought to life by Sir Ian McKellan in the movies. 

Kahn -- Mongolian conqueror and emperor of the Mongol Empire
. No, that's the name of James T. Kirk's nemesis in the Star Trek movie The Wrath of Kahn. Ricardo Montalban played Kahn and the movie gave rise to one of the best onliners ever, Kirk yelling into his communicator, "KAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHNNNNNNNNN!" 

Nemo -- A Greek boy’s name meaning “from the valley”, means “nobody” in Latin . No. That the name of the clownfish in Pixar's Finding Nemo.  

Q -- The Broadway Express subway line in New York City. Maybe to a New Yorker, this makes sense, but you might as well name a storm, the Red Line. Chicagoans would recognize it. "Q" is the name of Jean Luc Picard's nemesis in the TV series, Star Trek: The Next Generation. John de Lancie probably can't find work as anything other than Q. He reprised the role in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. It's also the name of the man who created all of James Bond's toys. Desmond Llewellyn is probably the most famous movie "Q". 

Rocky -- A single mountain in the Rockies
. Right. This is a reference to that one guy in that one movie, you know the one, where he runs up the steps of the Philadelphia art museum. No one refers to just one of the mountains. If they do, that peak has a name. 

Yogi -- People who do yoga
. This one is my favorite. When I heard it, I instantly thought of Yogi Berra, baseball Hall of Fame catcher. It would have to be a very bad winter for them to get this far, but, I kind of hope they do. The quotes coming from Mr. Berra about winter storms would be worth their weight in snow drifts. 

Winter starts on the 21st of December this year. While a winter like last year would be nice for my arthritis, it was not good for water tables. I'd like a bit more snow this year, although if it would come in no more than 4 inches at a time, that would be extremely helpful. Those of us in northern climates, used to snow, would like our Christmas to be white. Farmers depend upon a good snow cover for spring planting so a foot or two over the whole of winter would be good for them. "The Great Snow of 1967" is still a good name, if you ask me. 

What do you think?

Beverage:  Dunkin Donuts hot tea


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