Winter storms

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

On Nemo:

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.


5 Responses to “Winter storms”

  1. Ken Rudolph Says:

    Q could also be a reference to a famous character in the James Bond Series. But I agree that considering the inclusion of Khan, the Star Trek reference is probably more likely. In passing, I just completed a crossword puzzle where the 3-letter answer to the clue “Creator of M and Q” was Ian.

  2. noaahrd Says:

    The tropical cyclone names are actually the product of the World Meteorological Organization, an arm of the UN. There are also lists for the Western North Pacific, the Australian region, the area around Fiji, the area around Papua New Guinea, the area around Jakarta, the Bay of Bengal, the Arabian Sea, and the Southern Indian Ocean.

    In addition, the Free University of Berlin names storms that affect Europe. They have an Adopt-a-Vortex scheme in which people pay to have a storm named, the money going to weather observations at the Free University. The names are widely used throughout Europe.


  3. Terminologia etc. » » #snOMG! Says:

    […] febbraio 2013 – In Winter storms il linguista Arnold Zwicky commenta gli insoliti nomi scelti da The Weather Channel per le tempeste […]

  4. Edelweiss Says:

    The snowstorm currently over Europe is called Reinhold, but it was renamed “Big Snow” (English name!) by the Italian media.

  5. Another winter storm | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] blogging here on The Weather Channel’s winter storm names here, about February’s big Northeast storm, which TWC dubbed […]

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