What’s in a name?
By Gregory Jacobs-Roseman (Composer-Lyricist)
This morning I was sorting through my email when I came upon a notice that an alumni event for my undergrad was cancelled. The email read:
With great regret, we need to cancel the NYC Reception with Alumni & Graduate Students, Into the Horizon: Furthering Your Connections, scheduled for tomorrow. With reports that Winter Storm Nemo will be hitting late Friday night and Saturday, we do not believe it is worth jeopardizing the safety of Emerson alumni, students, staff, and faculty.
Now, I had no intention of attending the event to begin with, but something in this email kind of shocked me: the fact that it referred to the upcoming winter storm by it’s supposed “name.”
I admit that I’m a bit of a meteorology and geography nerd. Climate and weather patterns were something I had to study during my sommelier training. In middle school I competed in and won geography bees and in my free time I still research both topics. In short, I find meteorology – tropical cyclones in particular – fascinating.
That said, let's get the facts straight: winter storm names AREN’T a thing. Winter storm names are a marketing ploy made up by The Weather Channel.
The Weather Channel – a for-profit organization owned by NBC – is undermining the authority of the National Weather Service – a government agency – and trying to boost its ratings by suddenly deciding to give names to winter storms for the first time this winter. The National Weather Service gives official names to hurricanes and tropical cyclones, but does not name winter storms, and refuses to go along with this marketing tactic by The Weather Channel.
This new practice by The Weather Channel is clearly the result of hurricanes Irene and Sandy striking the northeastern corridor over the past two years. Just nine days after Sandy made landfall in New Jersey, The Weather Channel announced it was naming an ordinary nor’easter “Athena” and would be naming major winter storms in the future. They said it was for “clarity” but it’s pretty clear that their thinking was: now that the most densely populated area of the country is used to named tropical cyclones, why not extend that to a far more common type of storm in the northeast? It makes your average winter storm so much scarier. Maybe then more people in New York and Boston will tune in.
Growing up, we didn’t have “Winter Storm José” or “Nor’easter M. Night Shyamalan.” We had the Blizzard of 1996. Or more recently, the Blizzard of 2006. (Do I sense a pattern? Look out, winter of 2016!) The fact that in the aforementioned email someone in my alma mater’s alumni office was watching The Weather Channel and using it to determine whether or not the event should go on as scheduled isn’t anything unusual. But that person completely fell for the marketing – for The Weather Channel’s own branding of our very atmosphere. It’s something I find very disturbing and pray doesn't become the norm.
We name hurricanes because they are singular, identifiable, disastrous events. They can be tracked from their humble beginnings as tropical waves off the coast of west Africa to their deadly full formation in the Caribbean, and their paths can be easily forecast. Sometimes there are multiple systems in play and we need to tell them apart. There is a season of the year when weather conditions are right for these storms develop. They are specific, well-studied low pressure systems.
Winter storms are very different. Unlike hurricanes, they don’t have a set of characteristics to define them other than a shitload of ice and/or snow. For example, Nor’easters, which often carry the most destructive blizzard conditions in winter, can also occur at any time of year. While hurricanes are easy to track, winter storms are erratic with uneven amounts and areas of snowfall and wind gusts. “Blizzard conditions” are defined by the National Weather Service as winds of at least 35mph and reduced visibility by winter precipitation to less than a quarter mile for at least three hours. Those conditions can be caused by any number of meteorological events. To give all major winter storms a name is to suggest that they are all the same kind of system, when in fact the opposite is true. That’s not only irresponsible, but could mislead people and put them in danger as well.
Aftermath of the blizzard on Dec. 26, 2010. Remember this? Bus Graveyard? Brutal. I had a day-late Christmas dinner with fellow Crazytowner Rachel that night. During our walk home in the epic snowfall she said: "it's times like these I wish I had a sled." I replied: "it's times like these I wish I had a driver."
When pretty much the only channel devoted to the weather 24/7 decrees that it will ignore government protocol in an attempt to get more viewers, that’s pretty dangerous. I for one will trust my government agencies before a corporation looking for higher ratings on this one. I encourage you all to ignore the names this winter. Don't get drawn in by marketing. The next time you want to check the weather forecast, skip weather.com and go to weather.gov. The National Weather Service has far less of an agenda.
At any rate, stay warm this weekend, and above all else, stay safe.
End of rant.
GREGORY JACOBS-ROSEMAN is a composer/lyricist and theatrical sound designer currently developing Save The Date: A New Musical Comedy. www.gregjr.com
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