It’s only just the beginning of fall, but very soon the flakes will fly in the northern states as the season begins to cool. Always a reminder that winter is coming, the Weather Channel announced its winter storm names for the 2015-2016 season on Tuesday.
The names were selected again with help from Bozeman High School’s Latin Club in Bozeman, Mont. The list was tweaked by senior meteorologist Bryan Norcross, who said he combed through the suggestions to make sure they’re short, pronounceable and work well as a hashtag, since social media is the “driving force behind the naming.”
When the Weather Channel began naming winter storms in 2012, the process was highly subjective, Norcross said. Any storm that looked like it could pose a threat to a significant population would get a name. They ran through the entire alphabet that year.
Since then, the meteorologists at the Weather Channel have been fine-tuning a more objective algorithm. Beginning in 2014, names were given only to storms that would generate warnings for a population of 2 million, or an area of 400,000 square kilometers. “The advantage to using the National Weather Service’s winter storm warnings is the threshold for the South is different than the North,” Norcross said. “The regional impact difference is built into the criteria itself.”
Norcross said the naming committee also has the flexibility to name a storm that doesn’t meet the criteria if they think it will have a big enough impact.
Every fall, the Weather Channel’s winter names announcement is met with reactions ranging from skepticism to vitriol. But they’re not backing away from the project, which Mary Glackin, senior vice president for public-private partnerships at the Weather Company, says is the right move for public safety and the weather industry.
“I would like to see us reach some solution as a whole enterprise,” Glackin told The Washington Post. She used Hurricane Joaquin and South Carolina’s recent flooding disaster as an example of events where, despite agreement among meteorologists, the public can still fail to grasp the most critical impact message. “As an enterprise we worked hard to communicate that it was the rain that was going to be a problem. Yet it was confusing for people to understand since coverage of the hurricane took dominance.”
Glackin, who previously worked at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for over 30 years, made a strong pitch for the naming of winter storms in a September blog post on the American Meteorological Society Web site, citing extraordinary social media engagement. “During major snow events, the reach on Twitter has been over a billion,” Glackin wrote. “What would our reach be with all of us working together feeding into the same system to keep people informed during these hazardous events?”
Glackin says that reactions to the piece were mixed. “What struck a lot of people was the social media aspect, which I think wasn’t appreciated earlier,” she told The Post.
Though they haven’t snagged any winter storm naming partners yet, the company remains hopeful and will continue to increase public awareness by highlighting the winter storm threats and hammering the storm names on Twitter. “Collectively,” Glackin said, “we have to do a better job on impacts and making info easily available and consumable for people.”