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You might not be able to buy a star, but you CAN buy a storm — in Europe

A surface analysis including vortex names from Nov. 12, 2014. (Free University of Berlin)

While you cannot actually pay to name a star, you can officially name storms in Europe, and many media will actually use those names in their weather coverage.

The only organization that names stars officially is the International Astronomical Union, and they end up having pretty boring names. Like “HR 7001” (also known as Vega). Blaine Friedlander wrote on Tuesday:

The International Star Registry has been “selling stars” for a long time. In 1998, New York City’s Department of Consumer Affairs issued a violation against the International Star Registry, an Illinois company, for engaging in a deceptive trade practice – facing fines of $3,500 or more according to the agency’s press release. The city’s then-consumer affairs commissioner Jules Polonetsky said that paying to name stars after loved ones is “simply throwing money into a black hole.”

Blaine suggests that if you really want to give someone a star for the holidays, you should make your own certificate, since it will have just as much credibility as the one you’d get if you paid the 55 dollars to the “International Star Registry.”

However, if you’re still interested in officially naming science-y things after yourself (who wouldn’t be), you might be interested to know that you can “adopt a vortex” in Europe. Yes that’s right — both high and low pressure systems are designated with names in Europe, in a program managed by the Free University of Berlin’s Intitut für Meteorologie. Every year the highs and lows switch between male and female names. In 2014, highs have male names and lows have female names.

According to the institute, the tradition of naming high and low pressure systems dates back to 1954 when Karla Wege, a student at the university, suggested that naming the systems would make them easier to track on charts and in the media. Alas, storm naming was born.

The ability to adopt a vortex didn’t begin until 2002, and the money raised in the program goes to fund the university’s student weather observation club. The institute makes a compelling argument for purchasing a name:

Of course supporting this initiative does not mean that you really influence the weather itself, but you can leave your signature on the weather charts. After the high or low has vanished from the weather charts, every client of ours gets a ‘Post Mortem Documentation’ consisting of a certificate, weather chart of the ‘day of birth’, an individual life story and a ‘Berliner Wetterkarte’ for his or her vortex. So give joy to yourself or loved ones!

The price tag on naming a vortex is around 199 euros for lows and 299 euros for highs (approximately between 250 and 370 U.S. dollars, depending on the exchange rate), though the price seems to vary from year to year.

The National Weather Service in the U.S. has been officially naming hurricanes since 1953, when it began with all female names — a practice that ended in 1978 when they began including male names in the list. In 2012, The Weather Channel took a note from the Germans and began naming winter storms that impact the U.S.

The Weather Channel argues that a naming system has become necessary to improve weather communication. “It’s simply easier to communicate about a complex storm if it has a name, which our naming program has demonstrated,” said Bryan Norcross, senior hurricane specialist at The Weather Channel. “Good communications benefits everyone.”

The Weather Channel isn’t unilaterally choosing all of the winter storm names. In 2013, they allowed the students at Bozeman High School in Bozeman, Mont., to compile a name list for the winter. This year, they reserved one name — the “W” — for viewers to pick. So maybe there’s something in the idea of letting the highest bidders pick the storm names, and the funds could be donated to the Red Cross for storm relief.

Whether or not you agree with the idea of naming winter storms, hurricanes, or vortices over Europe, The Weather Channel show “WxGeeks” will be addressing the naming issue on this week’s episode, and host Marshall Shepherd promises a candid, fair conversation. “One of the reasons I believe WxGeeks has gained respect and credibility is that we are doing what we said we would do,” Shepherd writes in a blog on the episode. “Deal with ALL of the issues.”

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