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Posted at 12:10 PM ET, 10/02/2012

Weather Channel to name winter storms: a publicity and power play with possible value

Every storm has its own unique characteristics and traits. And sharing information about the impacts of a storm becomes easier and more effective when a storm is given an identity.

Smartly recognizing this, The Weather Channel (TWC) announced today it will begin naming significant winter storms - the first three will be called Athena, Brutus and Caesar. It’s a bold (even arrogant?) move, because - in a sense - TWC is laying claim to custody of the nation’s major winter weather events.

TWC’s press release begins* by boasting it is “the first national organization in North America to proactively name winter storms.”

Then it makes the case for why it’s fit to effectively be the parent, implying it’s every bit as a qualified as the National Hurricane Center (which names tropical storms).

“The Weather Channel has the meteorological ability, support and technology to bring a more systematic approach to naming winter storms, similar to the way tropical storms have been named for years,” it says.

But independent weather companies and meteorologists have expressed some concerns about TWC’s audacious, unilateral move.

Noted Birmingham, Alabama broadcast meteorologist James Spann tweeted that the storm naming “needs to be coordinated with NWS and other private sector interests for sure.”

Meteorologist Brent McGrady of the Albany Examiner agreed, blogging:

“By assigning a name to a winter storm, it might become confusing if only The Weather Channel is referring to that storm by name and not other sources of media or government agencies. This may actually confuse the public even more.”

But TWC seems to assume that media and government entities will uncritically adopt their naming scheme.

“Coordination and information sharing should improve between government organizations as well as the media, leading to less ambiguity and confusion when assessing big storms that affect multiple states,” it writes.

Yet one wonders whether organizations like AccuWeather - one of TWC’s few competitors - will use or even acknowledge these names. When the news was relased, AccuWeather immediately expressed reservations about TWC’s subjective process for naming storms. It tweeted: “We are concerned about the lack of strict criteria with naming winter storms.”

To determine whether a storm gets named, TWC says it will evaluate whether it has the potential “to produce disruptive impacts including snowfall, ice, wind and temperature”. It will further consider whether the disruptive impacts will affect a populated region and occur at a particularly busy time of day or week.

From my perspective, these criteria make sense. And TWC has every right to name storms and certainly carries the expertise to determine what storms should be named.

Further, I agree with its primary rationale for doing this. TWC meteorologist Bryan Norcross said it well: “The fact is, a storm with a name is easier to follow, which will mean fewer surprises and more preparation.”

Not to mention, storms names are fun. We’ve solicited and developed them here at the Capital Weather Gang.

At some level, however, I would have preferred the National Weather Service take this on rather than TWC. An NWS storm-naming initiative would have more credibility since its mission is to protect life and property rather than to make money and generate publicity.

TWC, in recent years, has acquired several of its competitors (WSI, Weather Underground and Weather Central) and, overwhelmingly, controls the leading share of the U.S. weather audience (from weather.com: “across all its platforms - television, online, desktop and mobile - The Weather Channel has a 76 percent share of the huge U.S. weather audience.”).

It’s somewhat unsettling that it’s apparently not enough for TWC to have a huge majority ownership of the weather reporting business, but that it must also make a play to be the guardian of the weather itself. At the same time, the initiative has merits and I can’t say I blame them for pursuing it.

* Note: TWC’s claim that it is the first national organization to proactively name storms is debatable as the Capital Weather Gang, part of the Washington Post - has worked interactively with readers to name significant winter storms to affect the D.C. area since the winter of 2009-2010 - e.g. Snowmageddon and Commutageddon.

By  |  12:10 PM ET, 10/02/2012

 
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