Sorry, Toby — Winter Storms Don't Have Names (Except on Cable News)

"Toby" from space.
"Toby" from space. (Image credit: NOAA)

A nor'easter is pounding the East Coast today (March 21), and it may or may not be named "Toby," depending on whom you ask.

If you're following the storm on cable news, you probably do call it Toby. The Weather Channel started the convention of naming big winter storms in 2012, and their chosen names have started to trickle into other outlets. (Live Science learned the name Toby after overhearing reporters at another publication that shares our newsroom using it.)

"Meteorologists outside of [The Weather Channel] sphere refer to storms by their dates," Sara Ganetis, a meteorologist at NOAA's Weather Prediction Center, told Live Science in an email. "For example, the '8-9 February 2013 blizzard.' In casual conversation, they might add flair to a winter storm name after the fact, such as 'The 13-14 March 1993 Superstorm' but not in a scientific manner."But, as much fun as it is to assign a name that sounds like a middle-age management consultant to every blustery squall that blows through, World Meteorological Organization guidelines state that only tropical cyclones (hurricanes, typhoons and their smaller cousins) get names. And scientists who study the weather aren't fans of bending that rule. [The 10 Worst Blizzards in US History]

Live Science reached out to a number of weather experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and at universities to ask whether they'd be calling today's storm Toby, and they universally said "no."

Allison Wing, a professor in the Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science at Florida State University, agreed.

"Several years ago, The Weather Channel began naming storms, but these are not any sort of official designations, just something that a private company decided to do," Wing told Live Science. "Government and university meteorologists and scientists generally do not use these unofficial Weather Channel names to discuss or describe winter storms."

Joey Picca, a meteorologist at NOAA's Storm Prediction Center, also said he and his colleagues would not be using the name Toby today.

So, does that mean the storm isn't named Toby? Well, Live Science supposes that's a matter of personal interpretation.

Originally published on Live Science.

Rafi Letzter
Staff Writer
Rafi joined Live Science in 2017. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from Northwestern University’s Medill School of journalism. You can find his past science reporting at Inverse, Business Insider and Popular Science, and his past photojournalism on the Flash90 wire service and in the pages of The Courier Post of southern New Jersey.