The Weather Channel has unveiled their list of names they’ll label winter storms in the U.S. this winter, continuing a controversial practice they started in 2012. The National Weather Service and its parent, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, do not name winter storms now do any other government or public entity. While many media outlets, including the Weather Channel, gave different nicknames and monikers to storms over the years, only the Weather Channel has embarked on a regular process of crafting a full list of names and branding each storm that forms with a name from that list.
The name list is considered controversial by both the government and Weather Channel competitors. When the Weather Channel first produced a list in 2012, competitor AccuWeather founder Joel Myers said, “In unilaterally deciding to name winter storms, The Weather Channel has confused media spin with science and public safety.” In an internal memo sent around by the National Weather Service shortly after the Weather Channel issued their first name list, they reminded employees not to refer to storms by names. While the agency has stopped short of offering a written opinion on the naming of winter storms, they have said naming a winter storm is very different than naming a hurricane. “A winter storm’s impact can vary from one location to another, and storms can weaken and redevelop, making it difficult to define where one ends and another begins,” the National Weather Service said in a statement.
According to the AP Style Guide, writers in the U.S. are told not to use storm names issued by anyone other than a government source.
Overseas, naming storms isn’t new. In Europe, meteorologists have been naming storms for more than 50 years. The Institute for Meteorology at the Free University of Berlin assigns names to not just storms, but all high and low pressure systems that impact central European weather throughout the year. The institute alternates every year giving highs and lows either male or female names.
One list of names the United States and its government agencies do recognize is for tropical cyclones. This list of names are maintained by the United Nation’s World Meteorological Organization. The World Meteorological Organization from the United Nations develops a list of names for each ocean basin. In the United States, the National Hurricane Center maintains lists from the WMO for Atlantic Basin and eastern Pacific basin storms. Storms that form near Hawaii come from a list managed by the Central Pacific Hurricane Center. “It is important to note that tropical cyclones/hurricanes are named neither after any particular person, nor with any preference in alphabetical sequence,” states the WMO. “The tropical cyclone/hurricane names selected are those that are familiar to the people in each region.”
Storms responsible for significant death/destruction are retired at annual WMO meetings. This is why there will never be another Harvey, Maria, Katrina, Sandy, or Andrew. The WMO selects new names each year to replace the retired names. Otherwise, storm names are recycled every 6 years.
If a tropical cyclone forms in the off-season, it will take the next name in the list based on the current calendar date. For example, if a tropical cyclone formed on December 28th, it would take the name from the previous season’s list of names. If a storm formed in February, it would be named from the subsequent season’s list of names.
In the event that more than twenty-one named tropical cyclones occur in the Atlantic basin in a season, additional storms will take names from the Greek alphabet.