Winter Storm Naming Leaves Local Weathermen Out in the Cold

Rebecca Greenfield
Winter Storm Naming Leaves Local Weathermen Out in the Cold

Players: "The weather community," meaning: various meteorologists from local news stations, including DC's ABC News affiliate, Maryland's  CBS affiliate, Raleigh's CBS affiliate and AccuWeather; The Weather Channel, a national, but private, weather channel and website. 

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The Opening Serve: Earlier this week, without consulting any other weather entities, The Weather Channel announced it would start naming winter storms, in addition to hurricanes. In the post about it on the service outlined its reasoning for doing this, which included the following reasonable enough sounding bullet points:

  • 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.

The Return Volley: Unlike the rest of the Internet, which piled on TWC for picking the nerdy references to Greek Mythology and Star Trek (pictured above), local meteorologists just felt left out, answering with statements on how TWC should have consulted them. "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," wrote Nate Johnson, who does the weather for Raleigh-Durham's WRAL-TV. "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," added WJLA's Bob Ryan. And we find similar sentiments from the American Meteorological Society, that said it didn't know about this move at all, and here, here, and here. 

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What They Say They're Fighting About: The integrity of weather reporting. The rest of the weather community begs to differ with TWC's reasoning that naming storms will do the public any good. The official statement from Accuweather's founder and president Dr. Joel N. Myers said the idea "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," he added. "Naming a winter storm that may deliver such varied weather will create more confusion in the public and the emergency management community." Johnson lamented that TWC had zero data to back up any of its claims. And, as the "largest private sector weather business in the world" Ryan believes this kind of miscommunication can have life-threatening consequences. 

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What They're Really Fighting About: Attention. TWC got lots of press over this, which has the other weather people riled. "It’s natural for TWC to want everyone in the marketplace to think of them first when it comes to weather – just like it is for local stations – and by asserting naming rights on high-impact, ratings-driving storms, they’ll take another step in that very direction and right on the toes of anyone who doesn’t want to play along, including, I suspect, many local TV stations," wrote Johnson. That makes it sound like this riff goes beyond the storm naming. TWC cares about popularity, whereas the weather guys care about you. Of course, we also imagine the weather guys feel a little defensive these days, as they lose their importance to apps and the Internet. 

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Who's Winning Now: The Weather Channel, for now. As far as publicity stunts go, this one worked. So far the backlash is contained to the weather community. Many blogged about the move, most of them noting the name choices, not the maybe-flawed reasoning behind it. Not even National Weather Service hasn't outright condemned it, saying it has "no opinion" in its statement to AccuWeather. So far, there have been no consequences for TWC, beyond getting outed as huge nerds.