This item has been corrected.
“Named must be your fear before banish it you can,” said Yoda, the linguistically-challenged sage of the Star Wars saga.
We’d like to think that this was the valiant intention of the Weather Channel when it announced, last November, that it would begin naming winter storms in the US.
While federal agencies such as the National Hurricane Center and its parent, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, name tropical storms (“Sandy,” for example), they only give storms names if they meet very specific and detailed criteria. And because these are government bodies, their names are universally accepted.
Not so for the Weather Channel, a media property (which also operates weather.com) owned by NBC and two private equity firms, which decided to start naming winter storms unilaterally. The blizzard currently descending on the US’ East Coast has been christened “Nemo”—not because the Weather Channel hit on the ploy of selling storm naming rights to movie studios, but for entirely pragmatic reasons, as it explained in November on its website:
- 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.
In other words, naming a storm makes it easier to follow on Twitter and promises to generate increased attention and buzz around… the Weather Channel. The channel’s statement topped off its reasons with a telling argument: “Finally, [naming snow storms] might even be fun and entertaining and that in itself should breed interest from our viewing public and our digital users. For all of these reasons, the time is right to introduce this concept for the winter season of 2012-13.”
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with the Weather Channel wanting to become a more exciting media destination for weather-related news, but the arbitrary naming process (which was supposed to have an ancient mythology bent this winter) has already produced some fairly eye-rolling monickers: other storms so far have carried names such as Gandolf, Freyr, Iago, and Kahn.
More problematically, the Weather Channel’s marketing ploy might actually fragment communications, rather than streamline them, as was the stated intention, since its competitors are refusing to use the name. Accuweather doesn’t mention “Nemo” (just a “blizzard”); nor does the US government’s National Weather Service. Some other weather-reporting outlets are even giving the storm a different name: WFSB, a Connecticut radio station, calls it “Charlotte.”
Nor are some government officials. The mayor’s office in Quincy, a Massacussets town expecting heavy snowfall, told The Patriot Ledger, “Naming winter storms devalues the tradition of naming hurricanes. We have no plans of using Nemo in our communications with the public.”
Correction (February 8): An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that news outlets other than the Weather Channel, while refraining from calling the blizzard “Nemo,” were not giving it a different name.