Naming Winter Storms: Good Intentions, Bad Idea

by Bill Brenner on February 8, 2013

Here we are, waiting for another “potentially historic” storm to strike the Boston area. Two feet of snow is expected, along with high winds and five-foot snow drifts. Fair enough. It’s winter and we haven’t had a significant snowfall yet. But I’m baffled by the logic behind naming these storms.

Mood music:

[spotify:track:2JsiEwxDXXPAf0WFnE142f]

The weather forecasters have named this storm Nemo, presumably in honor of the clownfish from Finding Nemo, a movie that has nothing to do with blizzards. Apparently the weather experts decided after Superstorm Sandy that every single storm should have a name. One storm following Sandy was called Athena.

The good folks at The Weather Channel came up with the idea, explaining on their website:

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 can respect the logic behind this. But there are unintended consequences: One person’s mental preparedness is another person’s nervous breakdown.

For those who suffer from fear and anxiety, named winter storms bring up the worst weather images of the past. A name makes one think of hurricanes and the destruction they cause. In the mind of the fearful, naming a storm is tantamount to declaring doomsday. This is especially true for children.

Also see: “For Parents With Kids Freaked About Winter Storms” and “Fear, Anxiety and Storms: From the Blizzard of ’78 to Sandy

Take it from someone who once suffered from crippling fear and anxiety: Living through this stuff is hell. If someone has lived through Hurricane Katrina or Superstorm Sandy, such promotion brings back the bad memories and nightmares. 

Given all our advances in long-term weather forecasting and the heightened mindset of preparedness we’ve had in recent years, naming storms strikes me as overkill.

Hopefully, I’m wrong and the overkill won’t hurt anyone.

Finding Nemo over winter storm map

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