Winter is Coming

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.


4 thoughts on “Winter is Coming”

  1. I couldn’t agree more. In fact I studied the use of Twitter in emergency situations by responders and journalists for my Masters dissertation. I won’t tell you the title of it yet as it’ll ruin the story.
    During the winter of 2011 in Scotland we had a forecast of severe gales and storms for the whole of the country. The forecast was so bad that the Scottish Government advised local authorities to close the schools for the day. As the social media lead for my council I watched the day unfold and managed the council Twitter account from home as my daughter’s school was closed.
    At 9.30am I had a Twitter conversation with a journalist friend about the six names the Twitter community had nicknamed the storm with and by an hour later one had risen above the others as the hashtag of choice. And so #HurricaneBawbag was born. Later it was shortened to just #Bawbag.
    For those not sure about the Scottish vernacular, bawbag is slang for scrotum and is usually used as a derogatory term. Basically us Scots were daring the wind to a challenge – we were up for the fight and would give it our best shot. Bring it on wind.
    However, the police and most local authorities decided that bawbag was wholly inappropriate for them to use on their Twitter streams and they and the Scottish Government went for the wishy-washy #scotstorm.
    What did this mean? Well, most people were revelling over in the #bawbag camp with:
    – photos of the Clyde bursting its bank in several places –
    – film clips of journalists on sea walls just about getting swept away
    – a now infamous film of an escaped trampoline rolling down a street –
    – the po-faced Daily Telegraph publishing the word bawbag on its website, oblivious of its meaning
    – an enterprising Glasgow T-shirt printing #bawbag T-shirts before the day was over
    – American TV news stations reporting about Hurricane Bawbag without knowing what it meant
    Meanwhile over with #scotstorm the authorities were publishing news of closed roads, closed bridges, how to report fallen trees and other important messages, mostly to an empty room.
    And the moral of the story? Go where the people are – don’t try to shoehorn yourself into a hashtag of your own making because you don’t like the one that grew organically in the heat of the moment.
    Anyway, if you want to read my dissertation, lovingly entitled From John Smeaton to #hurricanebawbag: The development of social media use during emergencies by Strathclyde’s
    media and emergency responders, you’ll find it here –

  2. You really have to be on top of your pop cultural currency to survive. In Calgary in June this year when their was a big flood I was struggling to find what was happening on Twitter. Part of the issue was that Calgary was the big city involved but many other smaller places were harder hit and other parts of the province (Canadian equivalent to State) were waiting foraul the floods to hit. Eventually I realized that the geographical marker of choice was YYC Calgary airport’s code which works nicely in that the airport service range coincided with the flooded areas. The rallying cry post flood was #hellorhighwater which was picked up after an official used the phrase to describe the Exhibition and Stampede which was scheduled to open 10 days post flood in one of the worst hit areas.

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