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Naming Winter Storms

Is Naming Snowstorms a "Hot" or "Cold" Idea?

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Naming Winter Storms Frank Krahmer © Getty

The Great Blizzard of 1888. The Perfect Storm. The Storm of the Century. These titles, as well as the loss and damages caused by the winter storms that bear them, will be long remembered in the minds of U.S. residents. But is it their titles that makes each easier to remember?

This question is one of the first to spring up when discussing the idea of naming winter storms (similarly to how tropical storms and hurricanes are named). While the topic has been debated off and on for years, it hasn't ever permanently caught on with U.S. weather organizations or media outlets.

Arguments for and against naming winter storms include the following:

Pros:

  • Referring to a storm by name makes it easier to communicate about that storm.
  • Named storms are easier to remember, track, and refer back to after they have occurred.

Cons:

  • Unlike hurricanes which are well-defined storm systems, winter storms are broad an unorganized.
  • A snowstorm can cause varying weather conditions from location to location. One region may receive blizzard conditions, while another may only see rain. This could be misleading to the public.
  • A winter storm may weaken over one region, then re-develop over another. If this happens, it could be difficult to define where one ends and the other begins; and should the storm take a new name, or keep its original name? 

History of Naming Snowstorms in the U.S.

An official system for naming winter storms has never existed in the United States, however, individual weather agencies have unofficially named storms affecting their local regions. For example, the NWS Buffalo, NY office has been naming its lake effect snow events for several years.

In October of 2012, The Weather Channel (TWC) announced its decision to name winter storms beginning with the 2012-2013 winter season. This move was considered quite controversial, seeing as how TWC made this decision without consulting other lead weather reporting agencies, such as the National Weather Service and AccuWeather. Because of this, TWC received little support from these agencies, both of which released statements that they had no plans to use The Weather Channel's winter storm names in their official weather forecasts or discussions.

History of Naming Snowstorms in Europe

Similarly to the U.S., no official winter storm naming scheme exists in Europe, but strong cold season extratropical cyclones, often called "European windstorms," have been named since the late 1800s.

These storms aren't the only example of storm naming in Europe. In 1954, the Free University of Berlin (FU) was inspired by the United States' hurricane naming convention. It proposed that not only the strongest of winter storms, but also ordinary high and low pressure systems should be named. While this practice was never sanctioned by official European weather organizations, such as the World Meteorological Organization, today, the FU naming scheme is widely recognized across Europe. But with other international weather agencies, such as the Norwegian Weather Service, also naming notable storms that impact their countries, the possibility that a single storm could receive multiple names is a real concern for the listening and viewing audiences.

Regardless of whether or not your local weather authorities assign names to the winter storms that threaten your locale, remember to take a cue from Shakespeare...a winter storm, by any other name, would still be as hazardous.

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