This image, captured at 9:01 a.m. EST on Feb. 8 by NOAA's GOES-13 satellite, shows clouds associated with the western frontal system stretching from Canada through the Ohio and Tennessee valleys, into the Gulf of Mexico.
"You must prepare now!" scream headlines from websites such as the Weather Channel. The reason: the snowstorm dubbed "Nemo" is bearing down on the Northeast.
But why this name? Isn't it more likely to bring to mind the Disney-Pixar movie "Finding Nemo" than inspire storm preparation? And why name a storm anyway? The National Weather Service (NWS) doesn't name snowstorms, only hurricanes and tropical storms, but the Weather Channel has decided to name "notable" winter storms this year.
Here are the justifications for naming the storm, according to the Weather Channel (TWC):
- Naming a storm raises awareness.
- Attaching a name makes it much easier to follow a weather system's progress.
- A storm with a name takes on a personality all its own, which adds to awareness.
- In today’s social media world, a name makes it much easier to reference [a storm] in communication.
- A named storm is easier to remember and refer to in the future.
"The fact is, a storm with a name is easier to follow, which will mean fewer surprises and more preparation," the network added.
However, meteorologists are generally not impressed with this particular designation; weather expert Jason Samenow with the Washington Post has collected the opinions of several of the scientists, and the reactions are generally negative. Primarily, meteorologists criticize the unilateral way the network made the decision, apparently never consulting with the NWS or professional organizations. Several respondents said this action will confuse the public and the media.
"I think the preemptive decision by TWC to begin naming winter storms is, at best, a poor decision by a critical source of weather information and, at worst ... a gimmick," writes WJLA meteorologist Bob Ryan on his network's website. "I call this a 'preemptive' decision because there was, from everything I have learned, no coordination of this decision to name winter storms with the National Weather Service or any of the professional groups."
The NWS chooses not to name snowstorms because, unlike hurricanes and tropical storms, they aren't well-defined storms following a path that can be tracked, among other reasons, said Jeff Weber, a climatologist at the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo.
Weber added that he understands the rationale for the naming, and that publicity was likely a prime motivation. "It makes sense to keep the public informed, but I must admit I questioned the wisdom of having a commercial organization doing the naming," he told OurAmazingPlanet.
The name Nemo isn't meant to refer to "Finding Nemo," Bryan Norcross, a TWC meteorologist who helped conceive the storm-naming last year, told the New York Times. Nemo is Latin for "no one" or "no man." It also refers to Captain Nemo, the Jules Verne character from "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea."
"Captain Nemo was a pretty tough, fierce guy," Norcross said.