Weather Blog

Naming Nor'Easter ''Athena'' creates controversy in weather community

Naming Nor'Easter ''Athena'' creates controversy in weather community
A woman clears snow from her parked car Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012, in Dover Township, N.J., as the region pounded by Superstorm Sandy last week is hit by a Nor'Easter. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

While Hurricane/Superstorm Sandy made history books for its destruction, its follow up storm is making history for a different reason: its name.

The Nor'Easter bearing down on New England Wednesday has been given the name "Athena" by the folks at The Weather Channel -- the inaugural name on the list of winter storm names the channel created this season.

As you might have heard, The Weather Channel went on their own and created a policy of naming winter storms in October, figuring a named storm will make communications easier, especially on social media where the storm could become a hashtag.

With "Athena", TWC said the storm meets their criteria for naming the storm due to the possibility of several inches of snow across some areas that were still recovering from Sandy, including the interior sections of New Jersey.

But not everyone is playing along with the idea.

The National Weather Service issued a directive to their East Coast forecasters not to use the name Athena in any of their forecasts or warnings.

"The NWS does not use name (sic) winter storms in our products," the message read. "Please refrain from using the term Athena in any of our products."

The controversy stems from a private weather enterprise taking the reigns of this initiative without global support from the weather community. Hurricane names are governed by the World Meteorological Organization and have a strict criteria for when they are to be used, and what names to use.

But this winter storm list is being used by just one part of the greater weather community. If the NWS and other private weather services are not on board, could there be confusion? If the NWS is talking about a "storm" in the general sense and TWC is focused on Athena, and it's the same storm, but not spoken about the same way then...what?

And unlike a hurricane or tropical storm, there is also no set criteria for naming the storm and it appears it's up to TWC alone whether to give the storm the moniker, but then expect the rest of the world to just follow along.

A search of #Athena on Twitter found confusion on there. Some wondered why Sandy was with an "S" but Athena was back at "A".

"I guess I missed the memo where this storm got a name. #Athena Do we not go in alphabetical order anymore?" wondered @kateritchie.

Another assumed we had flipped back around to the start of the alphabet. "What happened to the 7-8 storms in between?" (Incidentally, as we found in 2005, the hurricane name list doesn't go back to "A" but reverts to Greek Alphabet -- Alpha, Beta, etc. Not to be confused with the Greek Mythology named storm here.)

And another:

"I just found out that the new storm approaching North East US is called #Athena. No, seriously," said @stratosathens

But I will say the hashtag search did provide quite a bit of storm information as well with a clearinghouse for some photos coming in from the storm. So in that sense, the concept is a success.

But for the non social media aspect, if you've got one TV channel saying one thing, and the National Weather Service saying (or not saying) another, and what happens if some local TV stations do use the name and others don't and... you get what I'm saying. With no global mandate, this can get pretty muddled.

So I'd say the concept is a good idea, but I think it needs to be done on a global weather community scale, not just have one part -- yes, an important part, but just one part -- unilaterally say so.

(And "Winter Storm 'Q'? 'Orko'? 'Gandolf'? Is there a danger some of the names are so silly that the storm won't be taken seriously? There's a reason we don't have "Hurricane Fluffy Bunny")

Portland's got the solution?

I think actually the best of both worlds might lie in what Portland has come up with: The hashtag #pdxtst. Short for "Portland Twitter! Storm! Team!" it was born as a poke against the local media for hyping our own winter storms.

But it caught on so well that it's now the standard hashtag for any weather event there, be it wind, snow or flooding (or lightning). Even the local emergency managers have caught on. In public forecasts, the storms are treated as their usual unnamed selves but locals know to find the latest info using that hashtag.

Maybe it doesn't work as well on a national or large regional scale, but maybe there is a happy medium out there.

In the meantime, we're just left to wonder when Winter Storm Nemo will strike.

What do you think?

I'm curious to know what you think. In theory, there is nothing stopping the Pacific Northwest from also naming storms -- I've had a fair number of emails asking why we don't, especially since some of our wind storms have been on par with the strength of tropical storms or weak hurricanes. But I say it'd have to come from the top. Would it be weird for one station to name it if others don't?

And if you do think names are cool, shoot me some of your best suggestions below!