The US cable channel The Weather Channel has taken upon itself assigning names to the winter storms during the year (similar to the naming of hurricanes and tropical storms by the National Hurricane Center, which provides three separate lists, for the Atlantic, the Eastern North Pacific, and the Central North Pacific). The Weather Channel’s names are decidedly quirky, and many have objected to the enterprise of naming winter storms: the National Weather Service on the grounds that it’s too hard to individuate them, others on the grounds that the private weather services have no official standing in these things, still others on the grounds that some of the names are silly or simply baffling. Nemo as the name of the huge storm over the weekend in the Northeast has come in particularly for criticism. (We are now into Orko, on the northern Plains.)
The Weather Channel site gives their winter storm names for 2012-13, along with explanations for them. The list:
Athena, Brutus, Caesar, Draco, Euclid, Freyr, Gandolf [so spelled], Helen, Iago, Jove, Khan, Luna, Magnus, Nemo, Orko, Plato, Q, Rocky, Saturn, Trito, Ukko, Virgil, Walda, Xerxes, Yogi, Zeus
A Greek boy’s name meaning “from the valley,” means “nobody” in Latin.
Ok, this is obviously tongue in cheek. It ostentatiously fails to mention the two Nemos most people will think of: Captain Nemo in Jules Verne’s novels Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and The Mysterious Island; and the cute fish in Pixar’s animated film Finding Nemo.
Other pop culture references are slyly alluded to by other names on the list, for instance Draco, Gandolf, Khan, Q, and Rocky. In each case, the Weather Channel’s “explanation” misdirects things to something obscure or silly:
Draco: The first legislator of Athens in Ancient Greece. [Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter books]
Gandolf: A character in a 1896 fantasy novel in a pseudo-medieval countryside. [Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings]
Khan: Mongolian conqueror and emperor of the Mongol empire. [character Khan in Star Trek]
Q: The Broadway Express subway line in New York City. [character Q in Star Trek; I would like to believe that there’s an allusion here to Lu Xun’s famous novella The True Story of Ah Q, but I think that’s vanishingly unlikely]
Rocky: A single mountain in the Rockies. [Rocky Balboa in the Rocky movies; the silliest of the silly — after this, how could you possibly imagine that these “explanations” are to be taken seriously?]
Apparently, a fair number of people are offended by this kind of playfulness in the context of potentially killing storms.
A larger point: it’s genuinely useful to individuate important events and to provide brief, easy-to-use labels for them. “The huge storm over the [past] weekend in the Northeast” is just not going to cut it.