My Ox Is Being Gored

In reality our forecast was pretty good. The problem was this ‘named’ storm’s worst aspects were being reported on the national media. Folks who heard this locally couldn’t or didn’t differentiate.

And, of course, that’s what’s going to happen. TWC will talk about a vicious storm and scare people who needn’t be scared.

The Weather Channel announced yesterday they’d begin naming winter storms. The reasons were enumerated by TWC’s Tom Niziol, who was very helpful to me when I was starting out in Buffalo. He was an NWS forecaster, later Meteorologist-in-Charge. Few people know more about winter weather.

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.

I call BS.

This is wholly a marketing move on the part of The Weather Channel, just as it is for WFSB. Channel 3 was already naming Connecticut’s storms when I got here 1984.

From a PR standpoint it’s probably good for The Weather Channel as it’s been for WFSB. For everyone else it will add confusion when we should be adding clarity.

Winter storms aren’t compact systems like hurricanes. Single storms can cover a few thousand miles over a period of days. More importantly these storms bring different weather to different places simultaneously.

Remember the “Storm of the Century” back in 1993? Some East Coast locations got creamed. Here in Connecticut its effect was significant, but significantly less. I was inundated by comments from viewers who felt it was hyped!

In reality our forecast was pretty good. The problem was this ‘named’ storm’s worst aspects were the only thing being reported by the national media! Folks who heard this locally couldn’t, or didn’t, differentiate.

And, of course, that’s what’s going to happen. TWC will talk about a vicious storm and scare people who needn’t be scared.

AccuWeather’s corporate account tweeted:

TWC Winter Storm Naming “Will Mislead Public”

I can’t disagree.

Nate Johnson, meteorologist from WRAL Raleigh, summed it up nicely:

In making this change unilaterally, The Weather Channel has essentially tossed effective risk communication out the window and their partners in the National Weather Service and other corners of the “weather community” under the bus. One of the tenets of good risk and emergency communication is that communicators speak with “one voice”. That doesn’t mean everyone says the same thing; rather, it means those involved should speak in harmony with others.

Maybe I’m overstating the problem? Maybe this is just sour grapes on my part? It’s tough to remove my emotions from the equation. In the words of my friend Ryan Hanrahan from Channel 30,

I think it’s silly and fun. I don’t think it does any harm.

I just want to know what happens when Channel 3 and The Weather Channel come up with different names for the same storm?

10 thoughts on “My Ox Is Being Gored”

  1. Didn’t WFSB-TV channel 3 name the Blizzard of 1978 as “Blizzard Larry” or some other nonsense? This is the time where sites like NOAA and other TV stations besides WFSB-TV will be essential.

  2. I love Ryan and think he is an extremely smart forecaster, but did he soften his words because NBC and TWC are owned by the same company? In his earlier tweets, he seemed to think I would cause confusion. I’m with you on this one, though I have to say the name “pre-Halloween snow storm” is kind of a mouthful.

  3. I stopped taking WFSB seriously when I realized they named winter storms. TWC had already become the MTV of weather (they actually talk about the weather now about as often as MTV shows music videos), now they have jumped the shark completely.

  4. AHHHHH!!! I agree 100%, 100%!!!! I don’t understand why local news outlets are making this a story… They are totally playing to the Weather Channel, local TV’s arch enemy when it comes to local weather coverage…

  5. I would hardly call TWC a source of weather or forecasting information. Pretty much useless. All they have left is PR and hype. A black mark on the met world.

  6. Karen, Thanks for the kind words! To be honest I was sort of apathetic about the whole thing but I didn’t at all buy their argument that this will “improve communication.” I just don’t see that.

    At the end of the day conveying impact and timing is the bottom line. That’s what is important.

    Their reasons for naming storms are pretty comical because they left out the main reasons IMO – naming is good marketing, it makes them standout as a weather leader (they’re a virtual national weather monopoly as it is), and it’s fun and silly. You didn’t see those reasons in the press release.

    I don’t think this really does any harm but I don’t see it as a big improvement in communicating a winter weather threat.


  7. Geoff, your whole approach to supplying information and forecasts that are as accurate as possible without adding hysteria and hype is one of the main reasons I have come to rely on you (and now Rachel, who seems to be cut from the same mold–although she is much prettier than you).

  8. The thing I like about names is that they stay with you longer than a date does. Think about it – if someone asks how much damage you had from the 1991 hurricane, you probably have to stop and think about what storm that was. But, if they asked about Hurricane Bob, you’d remember details.

    Personally, I don’t see that naming or not naming changes the hype value – but then, I buy bread and milk once a week whether it’s going to storm or not. 🙂

  9. Winter storms have this potential for snow accumulations week after week. I fear this more than each storm. Our winter 2 years ago was really tough for us in this area. And Fairbanks AK had quite a winter this past year. And the October storm last year was a non event in Stratford, as it knocked out inland areas.
    I believe keeping the hysteria out of the message and sticking to the facts is the best way. A name seems to add to the hype to me.

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