Branded Storms

With news that a winter storm might wreak havoc on Thanksgiving travel plans, Ian Crouch notes how, unlike hurricanes, “big winter storms have always been nameless, at least until last year, when the Weather Channel introduced Athena, Brutus, Caesar, and so on down to Zeus, which brought a foot of snow through the upper Midwest last April”:

The Weather Channel had gone rogue, staking out what amounted to a sole claim over the charismatic personalities of winter weather. Their competitors’ argument that it would manage to sow chaos was partly correct, but with a twist: it would only be confusing to the public if other weather forecasters attempted to generate their own, competing names for the same storms. To submit to the naming convention owned and managed by a rival would be equally unpalatable. By being first, the Weather Channel had handcuffed the entire weather-news industry: join in, or be boring. This year, they’re back at it—and so, this week, those of us looking for a pithy way to talk about this storm have a ready option at hand. At AccuWeather and elsewhere, it is “that big churning storm headed for the East Coast.” At the Weather Channel, it is Boreas. It’s pretty clear which of these makes the better hashtag.

Crouch’s take on the innovation:

Maybe the Weather Channel is right, and naming winter storms is in the public interest. But it is notable that this opinion has not been shared by anyone in the nonprofit scientific community. For now, the winter-storm names seem like just another innovation by a company that long ago mastered the form of selling rain, sleet, hail, snow, and wind.