Move over snowmageddon, here comes Gandolf

Posted on 03. Oct, 2012 by

Image provided by Wikipedia

Who says meteorology is boring?

There appears to be a controversy brewing this week among meteorologists over the Weather Channel’s decision to start naming major winter storms, similar to the way tropical storms and hurricanes are named.

Here’s part of the Weather Channel’s reasoning, according to a story posted on its weather.com web site posted by Tom Niziol:

“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.”

Storms will not be named more than three days in advance of impact “to ensure there is moderate to strong confidence the system will produce significant effects on a populated area.”

Looking at the list of names, it looks like the Weather Channel used a mixture of Greek mythology and action or fantasy films. How else do you explain names such as Athena, Helan, Luna and Zeus along with Gandolf, Rocky and Khan? One is even “Q,” which the Weather Channel explains is “The Broadway Express subway line in New York City.”

Oddly, the names Frosty, Jack Frost, Snowflake, Flurry Fury, Dr. Freeze and Vanilla Ice didn’t make the cut, apparently. We’ll just have to miss a scene like this:

TV Weatherman: “For those in the greater Dallas/Fort Worth area, Vanilla Ice will move into the area on Thursday, bringing with it the threat of six inches of snowfall and below freezing temperatures. It will be too cold too cold. Word to your mother – seriously, check on elderly neighbors to make sure they are OK.”

Many meteorologists aren’t in a joking mood, however, over all this. Here’s a comment I had in my inbox Wednesday from Dr. Joel N. Myers, AccuWeather Founder and President:

“In unilaterally deciding to name winter storms, The Weather Channel has confused media spin with science and public safety and is doing a disservice to the field of meteorology and public service,” Myers said.

He went on to say that unlike hurricanes which are usually well-defined and move along a patch that can be predicted, winter storms are erratic, affecting different areas unevenly.

Much of the negative feedback from the meteorology community seems to be based on the fact that the Weather Channel seemed to take it upon themselves to name storms and expect other weather forecasters to jump on board. Many claim that the move is simply a marketing attempt rather than a sincere desire to raise public awareness about potentially dangerous storms.

I’m convinced newspaper headline writers must have been on the naming committee. Wanna bet we see “The wrath of Khan” on a front page at some point? How about “Rocky lands knockout punch”? Maybe “Gandolf to motorists: You shall not pass.” (And before any Lord of the Rings fans point out my misspelling of Gandalf, I’m using the spelling provided on the Weather Channel web site.)

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