The battle of ‘Nemo’: Why forecasters are clashing over naming winter storms

Mark Perry shovels snow away from the front of his office on Columbia Street in Bangor in this Dec. 27, 2012 photo. (BDN file photo by Brian Feulner)

You may be aware that a fairly massive nor’easter is headed our way, with many meteorologists pretty sure it’s going to slam at least southern and coastal Maine with a foot or more of snow.

There’s less agreement among weather forecasters, however, on what to call this thing.

You may have heard the name “Nemo,” in the same way that you may have heard the name “Sandy” — which was at one point a hurricane — to describe the storm that walloped New York City late last fall.

This idea of naming winter storms is new territory, and it’s not universally agreed upon among the nation’s weather forecasting elite. It’s an initiative launched by The Weather Channel, which announced in November it would start giving names to “noteworthy” winter storms. Similar to the naming conventions used to name hurricanes, the cable television station came up with a list of names in alphabetical order for the forthcoming 2012-13 winter season.

(We’re up to “N,” now, with “Nemo,” although I don’t recall enduring 13 previous “noteworthy” storms this winter — they had scheduled names like “Gandolf,” “Khan” and “Draco,” if you were wondering.)

In its explanation for why it would begin naming winter storms, posted here, The Weather Channel argued it would make communicating about the potentially dangerous storms easier:

In addition to providing information about significant winter storms by referring to them by name, the name itself will make communication and information sharing in the constantly expanding world of social media much easier. As an example, hash tagging a storm based on its name will provide a one-stop shop to exchange all of the latest information on the impending high-impact weather system., one of The Weather Channel’s online rivals, swiftly came out against the move. Here’s what AccuWeather founder and president Dr. Joel N. Myers said about it in a rebuttal posted on that website:

In unilaterally deciding to name winter storms, The Weather Channel has confused media spin with science and public safety and is doing a disservice to the field of meteorology and public service. We have explored this issue for 20 years and have found that this is not good science and importantly will actually mislead the public. Winter storms are very different from hurricanes.

For what it’s worth, the Bangor Daily News uses the government’s National Weather Service as its primary source for weather information. The NWS does not name storms, and in response to those who do, has officially stated “no opinion about private weather enterprise products and services.”

Seth Koenig

About Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.