Game of Thrones might be over for the year, but the weather name games are just getting started. The Weather Channel recently released it’s now annual list of winter storm names. Atlas, Maximus, Titan. Not everyone is a big fan, with my local unaffiliated weather folks leading the eye rolling:
We, like last winter, will not acknowledge the use of the names in any winter storm. We continue to believe that naming winter storms is entirely too subjective and the impacts from storms vary too widely across the country to justify such a use — given a storm in the Pacific Northwest will have different impacts than a storm in Buffalo. Until a concrete, known, objective set of data is made known nationally and produced by a government agency or a collaborative of scientists who are naming storms because of objective criteria and not because of some in-house formula that nobody will know about, we will continue to avoid referring to winter storms by name at this site.
I applaud them for taking a stand. I’m not a huge fan either. But, what can you do?
No, seriously, what can you do?
We, in government, don’t control everything (the last week has been a federal reminder of that), including what people call things. When they want to call some event something, they will. And in today’s social media/viral world, there is very little we can do about it. The Weather Channel has a whole lot of flashy pull over how the public relates to the weather, and if they say this storm is called Quintus, there’s not much we can do about it.
This isn’t the first time we’ve run into naming problems: Snowmageddon was a popular term in 2010 that started with a blog comment. And don’t even get me started on post-tropical Superstorm (nee Hurricane) Sandy again. What we, and other people, call things is a very serious issue, especially in times of emergency or disaster when finding information can be the difference between life and death.
(Seriously, I was talking with Rebecca and Genevieve Williams of the amazing JoplinTornadoInfo at the NAGW conference the other week, and they said that the reason they picked that name was because that’s what people were looking for. Not, “EF-5 tornado destroys town,” not, “tornado outbreak updates,” not, “supercell in Missouri,” instead they wanted information about the Joplin tornado. And we’ve already talked about how successful that Facebook Page was.)
So, what do we do about it? Nothing except realize that it will happen, and we need to be ready to deal with it. You can deal with it by keeping an ear to the ground. As the next big winter storm hits, listen to see if your local news is using the Weather Channel’s names. If so, that might be what the public is calling it. And if they’re calling it that, they’re probably searching online for information about the storm using that name. So be ready to start using that name if you want to be heard. As Kim Stephens says:
Adopt [the hashtags that] others are using. Even if you try to be prescriptive, sometimes people start using a tag that catches on, whether you want it to or not, such as #SNOMG. In this case, if you want to be part of the group and get your tweets seen, you will need to adopt that usage.