A plan by the Weather Channel to name “noteworthy” winter storms has hit its competitors in the commercial forecasting industry like a face full of sleet.
“It is almost arrogant to say that everybody else in the industry and science is going to follow their lead and use these random names they came up with,” said Tom Downs, a forecaster at Weather 2000 Inc. in New York. “It seems they have gone off the wall, if you will. It has no scientific merit, and it could be very confusing to the public.”
Clearing up confusion is part of the reason the Atlanta-based Weather Channel gives for drawing up a list of names for the 2012-13 season that includes Brutus, Draco, Iago, Kahn, Q and Rocky.
Winter storms are the third-largest cause of catastrophic losses, behind hurricanes and tornadoes, the Insurance Information Institute of New York said. The storms caused about $25 billion in insured losses from 1990 to 2009, according to the institute’s website.
Naming storm systems will help create public awareness of a threat and help alert specific areas that they may be hit, said Bryan Norcross, a spokesman for the company.
The Weather Service doesn’t have an official opinion “about private weather enterprise products and services,” and only rates a storm’s ferocity when it’s over.
“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,” a Weather Service spokeswoman said in a statement.
The American Meteorological Society, which represents 14,000 forecasters across the United States, also doesn’t have an opinion on the idea because “this just came up a few days ago and for the society to react to it, we can’t act that fast,” said Keith Seitter, executive director.
Seitter said among the informal feedback he has received from members is a wish that the Weather Channel had conferred with the industry as a whole.
‘Snowtober’ got wheels turning
The idea for naming storms sprang out of last year’s October storm that left more than 2.3 million customers without power from Maryland to New England. The Weather Channel named the storm “Snowtober,” a moniker that was picked up by other media outlets and became an easy way to describe the event and drive awareness of it, Norcross said.
The channel is owned by a consortium of NBC Universal, Bain Capital and the Blackstone Group. It’s seen in more than 100 million U.S. households.
AccuWeather Inc., a competitor of the Weather Channel, has rejected the idea of naming the storms.
“Weather forecasting is based on a scientific foundation,” said Joel Myers, founder and president of AccuWeather in State College, Pa. “To cheapen it in this way for a P.R. stunt concerns me because in the public’s mind it may end up reducing the public’s perception of the credibility of meteorologists.”
Winter storms aren’t like hurricanes, which have definable centers and specific characteristics, said Myers, who was a professor of meteorology at Penn State when he founded his company in 1962.
Storms probably will be named no more than two to three days in advance, and the names may be changed as systems merge, Norcross said.