EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 9, 2012

Editorial: Let's stop marketing the weather


The Eagle-Tribune

---- — It’s only the second week of October, but one thing is certain:

Winter is coming.

New Hampshire’s Mount Washington, the highest peak in the Northeast, has already seen enough snow for weather observers stationed there to make a small snowman.

Hardware stores are laying out shovels and rock salt, ski areas are advertising their snow-making prowess, and at least a few department stores are already stocking Christmas decorations.

And local weather forecasters are coming up with silly names such as “Snowpocalypse” and “Snowmageddon” to describe routine winter storms. Our parents and grandparents used to tromp through 6- to 10-inch snowfalls on the way to school — uphill both ways, mind you — without a second thought. Today, weather news is as much entertainment as information, and every impending dusting is treated like the Blizzard of ’78.

The silly season is about to get worse, thanks to the folks over at The Weather Channel, who have decided to start naming winter storms.

“On a national scale, the most intense winter storms acquire a name through some aspect of pop culture and now social media; for example, Snowmageddon and Snotober,” The Weather Channel’s Tom Niziol told USA Today.

Most of the names The Weather Channel will assign to the snowstorms will have a Greek or Roman theme – think Athena, Brutus and Caesar.

We can think of the headlines now: “Hera hammers Haverhill,” or “Athena assaults Andover.” The Weather Channel folks say they’re just trying to raise public awareness about the storms.

We suspect they’re also trying to raise public awareness about The Weather Channel.

Give a storm a name, and you lend it an air of danger, which keeps viewers eyes glued to the screen — when they’re not out raiding supermarkets for milk, eggs, bread and batteries.

Lest you think we’re the only cranky ones, here’s a statement from Joel N. Myers, founder and president of AccuWeather: “In unilaterally deciding to name winter storms, The Weather Channel has confused media spin with science and public safety and is doing a disservice to the field of meteorology and public service.”

There is a long tradition of naming hurricanes. The United States in 1953 codified the tradition by assigning female names in alphabetical sequence to tropical storms. In the late 1970s, male names were added to the mix.

Hurricanes are well-defined storms following a path that can be tracked and predicted, so naming them makes sense, AccuWeather said.

“We have explored this issue for 20 years and have found that this is not good science and importantly will actually mislead the public,” Myers said. “Winter storms are very different from hurricanes.”

We agree. This is New England, after all, where winter isn’t a cause for panic. Or at least it didn’t used to be.

And to be sure, winter storms that are truly remarkable will always be remembered.

No one who experienced the Blizzard of ’78 or the Ice Storm of 2008 is likely to forget them.