|Photo by Paul Jerry via Wikimedia Commons|
by Peggy Robin
This is the third year that The Weather Channel has put forth a list of names for the snowstorms of the season. The first time they did this, in the winter of 2012-2013, I joined a worldwide chorus of voices led by the top scientists at the National Weather Service and the media mavens over at Accuweather (the Weather Channel’s chief competitor) to decry this action – but not for any of the very sound reasons given by professional meteorologists (such as the lack of consistent criteria to distinguish a snowstorm worth naming from one that will remain unnamed); it was simply that I didn’t like the sound of the names picked by the people at The Weather Channel. Like Freyr, the Norse God of Sunshine, for heaven’s sake! Or Orko, who, according to Wikipedia, is “a fictional character from the Masters of the Universe franchise….not part of the original toy collection on which the show is based, but...created by the show's writers as a comic relief.” Then there was Q -- as in Avenue Q, the Broadway puppet/live musical. And Yogi, as in Bear. Way too many of the names on the list were inapt, cartoonish, or just plain dumb. That, to me, was the most objectionable thing (see my Oct 6, 2012 comments at http://bit.ly/1MmiFyi).
When the second year of storm-naming produced an even sillier-sounding list, I doubled down on my objections in a complaint found here: http://bit.ly/1zeT2X3.
But at the start of the 2014-2015 winter storm season, I didn’t think I’d need to give the subject a third airing. It just didn’t appear on my radar as the winter storm season got underway. Nobody outside of The Weather Channel seemed to be latching onto the practice, in any event. So it seemed as if it might just fade away.
Then the weather turned, and some whopper storms came through, and suddenly, all kinds of people were calling them by those Weather Channel names. By the time we got to the middle of the alphabet, I was hearing about Winter Storm Juno all over the place, not just on the Weather Channel. The phenomenon was big enough to be noted in Nate Silver’s statistical blog, 538 -- though the commentator, Harry Enten, was just looking for some way to make it stop. As the article pointed out, using the name is still far from majority practice, but it’s definitely on the upswing from previous years. While it may not yet have reached a tipping point in usage by news organizations, it’s spreading rapidly among amateur weather followers on Twitter. It’s easy to see why it would catch on there: You can type a Tweet about a blizzard so much faster when you can reference it by name, e.g., hashtag Juno. Once you’ve named it, it’s no longer necessary to identify it by region, date, or storm-track. That’s a big deal in a medium that restricts you to 140 characters.
So now, seeing the utility of the practice in new media, I’m ready to embrace it – greatly assisted by the much-improved list of names announced by the Weather Channel's storm-naming team this winter. It seems to give credence to a couple of old sayings, “Practice makes perfect,” and “Third time’s the charm.” As I write this, we are coming up on Winter Storm Neptune – not a bad name for a weather phenomenon that can roil the seas, believed by the ancient Romans to be controlled by the fierce and unforgiving god Neptune.
Here are all 26 names of the 2014-2015 list (http://wxch.nl/1vLcnTV) put forth by the Weather Channel, followed by my brief comment:
Astro. Not off to a good start, for those of us who remember Astro as the Jetsons’ dog. With this name The Weather Channel immediately recalls the kinds of names that made their two previous years’ choices so laughable.
Bozeman. It’s a town in Montana, well known for deep snows – and a perfectly suitable name for a blizzard.
Cato. An ancient Roman statesman/writer/philosopher….or a present-day libertarian think-tank. If you use the think-tank as your reference, then think of all the chaos that would result if federal disaster aid didn’t exist for blizzard victims.
Damon. Known from an ancient Greek tale of a man willing to bet his life on his friend’s loyalty and honor. Perhaps the “willing to face death” aspect of the story is the part that serves as the link to dangerous weather ahead.
Eris. The Goddess of Discord, the one who got the ball rolling (or apple rolling) for the Trojan War. Good choice for a name of a destructive force of nature.
Frona. Short form of Sofronia, a character in a 16th Century Italian epic poem called Jerusalem Delivered. Sofronia is a Christian maiden willing to sacrifice her life to save the Christians of Jerusalem from massacre during the Crusades. While the setting may be far from wintry, the action seems stormy enough.
Gorgon. A snake-haired monster. Not bad… Any famous monster’s name works well for a winter storm.
Hektor. The Trojan warrior slain by Achilles. Just as any monster’s name would work, so would any famous warrior’s name.
Iola. Greek, for violet-colored dawn. Hard to see how wintry white ice imagery fits in with that, but it’s still better than “Rosy” or “Sunny.”
Juno. Wife of Zeus, known for her jealous rages. The imagery works for me.
Kari. From the Greek name Makarios, meaning "blessed" or "happy". But also suggestive of the Stephen King character “Carrie” who could throw objects around with her mind.
Linus. Possibly the worst one on this list. Forget Greek mythology. You know as well as I do that if you hear the name Linus, all you can conjure up is the image of that little kid from Peanuts, the one who can’t go anywhere without his security blanket.
Marcus. A Roman name formed from Mars, Mars, the god of war. Excellent name.
Neptune. The Roman god of the sea – fearsome in its winter rages.
Octavia. As you know if you’ve read or watched I, Claudius, the relatives and descendants of Octavian (Caesar Augustus) were a ruthless, power-mad bunch – and so their names lend themselves well to wintry blasts.
Pandora. In Greek mythology, a character who loosed trouble on the world when she opened that box and let all the bad stuff fly out.
Quantum. Perhaps because the phrase “quantum mechanics” makes most of us think of the atomic bomb? OK, it’s hard to come up with Q names. The trouble with this one is that “Quantum” just isn’t a name.
Remus. In Roman legend, Remus and his brother Romulus were raised by a she-wolf, although now the name more often calls to mind the kindly, folksy story teller of the Uncle Remus fables – so not the a great choice.
Sparta. Greek city-state that was the principal enemy of Athens during the Peloponnesian War. Fierce, unyielding, etc.
Thor. From Scandinavian mythology, god of thunder and rain. This is the best of the bunch.
Ultima. Feminine form of the Latin ultimus, meaning last, or furthest. Well, it sounds more like the name of a luxury car, but again, you’ve got the problem of a paucity of U names, so let’s accept it and move on to….
Venus. From Roman mythology, the goddess of love. As we know on this Valentine’s Day, love can be turbulent and dump a whole lot of trouble on you if you’re not careful.
Wolf. Whether the pack-hunting canine or the hyperventilating CNN anchor, either way a purveyor of dread.
Xander. A short form of Alexander, as in “the Great” – the conqueror, war-maker, bringer of destruction.
Yuli. Russian for Julius. Putting a Russian spin on the name of the noble Roman Julius Caesar adds that Cold War chill to it.
Zelus. From Greek mythology, the personification of rivalry, jealousy, or zeal – all qualities associated with storminess.
To sum up this year’s batch: Eight are good to excellent names; twelve are adequate /acceptable; and just six are so bad they should have been reconsidered. We will revisit this subject next year and see if The Weather Channel will continue to improve its game.