The recent nor’easter

Dear Editor:

On Feb. 13, The Williams Record printed a useful article by Kirsten Lee ’16 on the nor’easter and its aftermath. The article was headlined “Nemo descends on College, commonwealth” and called the storm “Nemo” throughout. While tropical and subtropical cyclones are named by meteorologists at the National Hurricane Center and hurricanes are named by meteorologists at the World Meteorological Organization, no scientific consensus underlies the naming of winter storms. It is rather to a recent and widely criticized marketing initiative of the Weather Channel (TWC) that we owe the unfortunate name “Nemo” and other winter storm names like “Draco” and “Gandolf.” While some may find that the PG movie references brighten their winter experience, we should make every effort to avoid these names.

As many critics have noted, cyclones and hurricanes are stable, discrete and long-lasting meteorological phenomena, while winter storms tend to be shorter-lived and messier events. The nor’easter we just experienced is a great example: It was the result of not one but two low-pressure systems (one that originated over Texas, the other over the northern Midwest) that merged off the northeast coast to produce heavy snowfall from New York to Maine. This is probably just one reason that the National Weather Service has asked its employees to refrain from using TWC names in any of their reports.

Even though these names suggest inexact analogies with cyclones, there is some merit to the argument that they may increase awareness and safety. Thus, in the words of the meteorologist Patrick Marsh on his Twitter account, “most people aren’t opposed to naming winter storms,” though they are “opposed to TWC doing it.” Indeed, we need go no further than TWC’s own articles to realize that their names owe at least as much to their marketing department as they do to a heartfelt concern for our wellbeing. In an article on “Why the Weather Channel is Naming Winter Storms,” TWC reporter Tom Niziol not only argues that a name “raises awareness” and “makes it much easier to follow a weather system’s progress,” but that “a storm with a name takes on a personality all its own,” whatever that means, and that “in today’s social media world, a name makes it much easier to reference in communication.” Judging from the laughably terrible weather.com website, social media is a big concern for TWC; on their local weather page, I count at least seven distinct invitations to “like” or “follow” their site or to sync my Facebook account so that I can “find out when [my] friends are at risk of bad weather.”

This marketing initiative has enjoyed widespread success, and national and local media have been reporting on “Nemo” since the weather system emerged earlier this month. That doesn’t mean that the Record should carry water for the Weather Channel. Follow the lead of the National Weather Service, The New York Times and The Washington Post and avoid this ridiculous scheme.

Eric Knibbs
Assistant Professor of History