Winter Storm What?

As the WaPo and the Weather Channel offer competing titles for the latest winter blast, Claire Maiers notes that simply naming a snowstorm makes us more likely to freak out about it:

First, the list of names chosen for the 2013-2014 season—titles like Atlas, Maximus, and Xeni—are names that connote strength and might. Many of them are taken from Roman and Greek myths. These other-worldly labels differ significantly from typical (and somewhat benign) hurricane names like Larry, Erin, and Carl. Surely no one would tell you to brace for Winter Storm Titan if only a dusting of snow were expected.

Second, it matters that the new practice of naming snow phenomena was preceded by the practice of naming hurricanes. Hurricanes are destructive events. To be labeled a hurricane, storms must meet certain criteria (like dangerous wind speeds). Culturally, when we hear that Hurricane Jane is going to make landfall, we know that those in its path had better “batten down the hatches” or get out of the way. Likewise, when we hear that Cleon is expected to hit tomorrow morning, we are culturally primed to expect an event of a certain magnitude.