A day after The Weather Channel (TWC) announced plans to name winter storms, a number of broadcast meteorologists are expressing significant concerns about the initiatve.
Most don’t have a conceptual problem with the act of naming storms, but TWC’s failure to coordinate with the rest of the meteorological community on the initiative is being viewed by many as self-serving and not in the interest of effective weather communication.
Andrew Freiden, a broadcast meteorologist in Richmond, put it bluntly: “Weather Channel to name Winter Storms! First Thought: “Who died and made them King?!”
Going quite a bit deeper, Nate Johnson, a broadcast meteorologist in Raleigh, thoroughly breaks down the flaws in TWC’s failure to engage partners in this effort on the blog Digital Meteorologist:
In making this change unilaterally, The Weather Channel has essentially tossed effective risk communication out the window and their partners in the National Weather Service and other corners of the “weather community” under the bus. One of the tenets of good risk and emergency communication is that communicators speak with “one voice”. That doesn’t mean everyone says the same thing; rather, it means those involved should speak in harmony with others. ... By setting their own standards and making their own categorizations of winter storms behind closed doors, away from peer review and scientific scrutiny, they are jumping out and expecting the rest of the weather community to follow along...In other words, they’re telling the NWS, local TV stations, and local officials that “we will name the storms, and the rest of you should speak our language or you’ll be the one causing confusion.”
WJLA’s Bob Ryan shares similar criticism:
I think the preemptive decision by TWC to begin naming winter storms is, at best, a poor decision by a critical source of weather information...
. . .
I call this a “preemptive” decision because there was, from everything I have learned, NO coordination of this decision to name winter storms with the National Weather Service or any of the professional groups such as the Weather Coalition, groups within the AMS or NWA. Our shared goal is to communicate the best weather information so that everyone will make the best weather related decision.
Salisbury broadcast meteorologist Dan Satterfield piles on:
I’m not saying that it is an absolutely bad idea, but TWC doing it unilaterally is not really the way to go here IMHO. Talking with NOAA and the American Meteorological Society (AMS) might have been a good idea first. The AMS Board of Broadcast Meteorology, and others at the society would have been at least a good starting point.
They could also submit a paper ( my preference) to one of the peer-reviewed journals outlining the idea and stating the criteria for using it. That would begin a constructive feedback process (one hopes) that could lead to perhaps an informal adoption and perhaps a more formal adoption later on. The Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale and the Fujita tornado intensity scale began just this way.
The concerns raised by these various meteorologists and the fact they weren’t addressed in TWC’s rollout raise the question whether TWC thought through these issues sufficiently before making the announcement. And they reinforce the conclusion marketing professional Chris McMurry drew yesterday: “At the Weather Channel, It’s Marketing First...”
UPDATE: AccuWeather CEO Joel Myers has issued a statement with similar themes to what’s above:
“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.
Hurricanes are well-defined storms following a path that can be tracked. Winter storms are often erratic, affecting different areas unevenly. Their centers may not be well-defined. There may be multiple centers and they often shift. One area may get a blizzard, while places not too far away may experience rain or fog, or nothing at all. Naming a winter storm that may deliver such varied weather will create more confusion in the public and the emergency management community.”