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Weather Almanac for November 2012
THE NAMING GAME REVISITED
Recently, I watched a TED Talk by dinosaur expert John (Jack) Horner who spoke to the question as to why there were no baby dinosaurs, by which he meant that paleontologists did not seem to know about many dinosaurs before adulthood. The talk looked at some of his recent research that indicated some of the named species of dinosaurs were, in fact, the juvenile or sub-adult stages of other known dinosaurs. To prove his hypothesis, he used modern diagnostic tools to look at the age of the bone development in certain “species”.
During his talk, he emphasized and re-emphasized one point: that scientists’ love for naming things had caused a plethora of species to be named when the finds were likely an earlier stage in the animal’s development cycle. I encourage you to listen to his talk. I have, for this discussion, extracted one paragraph that is relevant to my article here.
"And it comes down to a couple of things. First off, scientists have egos, and scientists like to name dinosaurs. They like to name anything. Everybody likes to have their own animal that they named. And so every time they found something that looked a little different, they named it something different. And what happened, of course, is we ended up with a whole bunch of different dinosaurs."
Naming in Meteorology
Some years ago, I wrote articles on the naming of the winds and on the history of why hurricanes have human names. In the latter (written in 2000), I said: “Don't be too surprised to hear one day that Blizzard George is approaching New England. I understand a system for naming other storm types is being considered.”
In October, The Weather Channel announced that beginning this year 2012, they would be assigning names to major winter storms and blizzards in the US. When I began looking into this press release, my research found that they are not the first to do so, only the first to do so nationally in North America.
Buffalo Lake-Effect Snowstorms
The first major initiative to naming winter storms on this continent appears to have originated with the US National Weather Service office in Buffalo, New York in the late 1990s for lake-effect snowstorms. For at least a decade — I am unable to find documentation that it continued past 2009 — the practice was undertaken by Tom Niziol, then meteorologist-in-charge of the Buffalo, NWS office, and now The Weather Channel's winter storm expert. Niziol said they used the naming only after the fact as a way to distinguish different lake-effect events in discussions to avoid confusion. He commented that the practice was very popular with the public.
The choice of names at Buffalo NWS followed a staff-chosen topic that changed annually. The theme for the annual names for the period 1998 to 2009 is given below.
Therefore in the 2008-9 season, Anaconda struck from 9-10 November, followed by Boa, Copperhead, Diamondback, etc. through to Mamba.
The NWS Buffalo website noted: “We name our lake snow events so it is easier to refer back to them for archiving. This is very unofficial and only past storms are named as a matter of policy.”
European Winter Storms
The current practice of naming winter storms that strike Europe began in November 2002 when the Free University of Berlin offered the rights to naming the storm in their Adopt a Vortex scheme. The money raised help to maintain the weather observatory at the university. The scheme was a continuation of a practice of naming all lows and highs that influence the Central European weather that had begun in Europe, and particularly at the Free University, since around 1954. According to the Weather Underground’s Jeff Masters, “Over 1,800 participants from 15 European countries plus Brazil, Japan and the United States have participated. So far in 2012, 90 European low pressure systems have been given names.”
Naming Storms, American Style
Not surprisingly, Americans have named storms for quite some time. Storms originally gained monikers after the fact to solidify their place in history. Confusingly, there are two Great Blizzards of 1888, a plethora of Storm of the Century candidates, and most recently Snomaggedon and Snomaggedon II. With the explosive expansion of the media over the last quarter century, everyone wants to name something, following Horner’s observation and the practice of George Stewart’s junior meteorologist in his classic weather novel Storm.
Weathercasters seem to be leaders in the practice of coming up with new catch words, phrases and names, and I am often amazed at new terms for weather phenomena that did not exist when I was a meteorology student (in the formal and informal sense of the word) back in the 1960s. It seems every year, I hear a new “pseudo-technical” term, and I am not immune to the practice, coining the term “urban soup” for the photochemical smog mix of chemicals in the 1980s.
So I was not shocked while doing my research for this article to find at least two instances (I am sure there are more) where local weathercasters had taken up the practice of naming winter storms. In Milwaukee, Wisdonsin, Fox 11 TV names winter storms using human names, as does Hartford, Connecticut’s WFSB-TV. At this CBS-affilliate, the naming of storms began in 1971 with “a 6 inch Thanksgiving snowstorm named Arthur.” The WFSB protocol is to name a storm when their forecast calls for at least 6 inches (15 cm) of snow and/or ½ inch (04 cm) of ice over most of their state.
Enter The Weather Channel
The 3 October 2012 press release from The Weather Channel states:
“During the upcoming 2012-13 winter season The Weather Channel will name noteworthy winter storms. Our goal is to better communicate the threat and the timing of the significant impacts that accompany these events. The fact is, a storm with a name is easier to follow, which will mean fewer surprises and more preparation.”
“…until now, there has been no organized naming system for these storms before they impact population centers. … In addition to providing information about significant winter storms by referring to them by name, the name itself will make communication and information sharing in the constantly expanding world of social media much easier. As an example, hash tagging a storm based on its name will provide a one-stop shop to exchange all of the latest information on the impending high-impact weather system.”
“The process for naming a winter storm will reflect a more complete assessment of several variables that combine to produce disruptive impacts including snowfall, ice, wind and temperature. In addition, the time of day (rush hour vs. overnight) and the day of the week (weekday school and work travel vs. weekends) will be taken into consideration in the process the meteorological team will use to name storms.”
“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 will even make it easier and more efficient for social media to communicate information regarding the storm resulting in a better informed public. And, on the occasion that different storms are affecting separate parts of the country, naming storms will allow for clearer communications.”
They hope the practice “will raise awareness, which will lead to more pro-active efforts to plan ahead, resulting in less impact on the public overall.”
A group of The Weather Channel’s senior meteorologists has chosen 26 names for the upcoming winter (2012-2013). The criteria used to select names ensure that are not and have never been on any hurricane lists produced by the National Hurricane Center or National Weather Service.
Their list for 2012-2013 with a few words about the name from The Weather Channel is:
The Field Guide to Natural Phenomena:
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The BC Weather Book: