Saturday, February 20, 2021

Still Life with Robin: The Wrath of Viola (and other Winter Storms)

The Weather Channel's Winter Storm Names, 2020-2021

by Peggy Robin 

It’s high time for my annual "Name That Winter Storm" column. I’ve been doing this since 2012 when The Weather Channel (TWC) began its campaign to popularize the naming of winter storms, seeking to turn its alphabetical list of 26 winter storm names into a practice on par with the naming of hurricanes instituted by NOAA back in 1953, which soon became a world meteorological standard.

As I point out every year, the National Weather Service and almost all top meteorologists think TWC’s winter storm naming system move is stupid, on the grounds that a winter storm, unlike a hurricane, is not an easily classifiable phenomenon. It's highly likely to have extremely varying, very localized impacts. If it's hard to say what it is, it's even harder to say when it should be named. 

That hasn’t stopped The Weather Channel from coming up with a new list of winter storm names at the start of each storm season.

But my objection – posted every year on All Life Is Local at some point during the winter storm season – isn’t focused on the meteorological pro’s and con’s of giving names to winter storms; it been entirely focused on TWC’s really dumb choices for the names themselves (with a few exceptions, of course).

As I’m tackling this topic toward the end of the 2021 winter storm season, we’re already up to the V’s – and so the giant storm that dropped all of Texas into a deep freeze, leaving millions without power or safe drinking water for days – is called Winter Storm Viola. Not a bad name for a storm -- Viola -- with its sound-association with the word “violent”.

Now let’s go back to the beginning of the alphabet and do a quick run-through+critique of the previous 21 names for Winter Storms of 2020-2021 and then look at the four names that follow Viola.

As I’ve done in past years since 2012, I will post each name in order, give the meaning according to a standard naming dictionary (, followed by my own brief comment on how well suited that name is to be a winter storm name, followed by a letter grade. At the end there will be a grade point average for the entire winter storm season.

Abigail. Hebrew for “Father’s joy.” Since there's nothing joyful about being hit by a winter storm, I give this name a D-.

Billy. It's a cute nickname for William (which means “will” or desire” combined with “helmet”). A fearsome and sometimes deadly force of nature should never be given a little boy's name. D.

Constance. Its meaning is the noun, which is the exact opposite of the extremely variable force of a winter storm. D-.

Dane. Meaning, someone from Denmark. Certainly appropriate for harsh winter weather, if not terribly imaginative. A-

Eartha. The meaning, of course, is Earth with a feminine “A” at the end. And that is also my letter grade for this storm name, which calls to mind the incredible forces that our planet can unleash. A.

Flynn. The Anglicized form of the Irish name Ó Floinn , meaning descendant of Flann. But if you say the name Flynn, most older people will think first of the tempestuous Hollywood star Errol Flynn – and most younger people will think first of disgraced/pardoned felon Michael Flynn, who lied to the FBI about his connections to the Russian and Turkish governments while (briefly) serving as Trump’s National Security Advisor. That was a stormy 22 days! So let’s give this one a B+.

Gail. A diminutive of Abigail – which was already used as the A-name in the winter storm alphabet. Clearly, the duplication is a fail. F.

Harold. Old Norse for “Army Leader.” While that may seem like a good name for a winter storm, that’s not the image that the name conjures up these days. It’s definitely drifted toward nerd-dom. Or perhaps it calls to mind the little boy in the classic kids’ book Harold and the Purple Crayon. So it starts out as an A and then gets points off for its nerd+kids'-book association these days, and ends up as a solid B.

Ivy. Meaning the plant, ivy. What does a clinging green vine have to do with winter storms? Absolutely nothing! D-.

John. The English form of Iohanon, meaning “God is gracious.” Not exactly the phrase that springs to mind when being assaulted with wintry blasts of snow, ice, and bone-chilling winds. F.

Katherine. From the Greek “katharos” meaning “pure.” There have been so many famous Katherines/Catherines, including Catherine the Great, and three of the six wives of Henry VIII, and any number of saints, actresses, and other celebrated women, that this name can be anything you want it to be. A winter storm? Sure, why not? Give it a B.

Lana. Most likely a shortening of Alana, a feminine form of Alan, which could mean either “rock” or “handsome” depending on which derivation you believe. But the first thing that comes to mind is undoubtedly Hollywood icon, Lana Turner, known for playing femmes fatales, like the killer in The Postman Always Rings Twice -- and known in her private life for her involvement with a violent gangster, Johnny Stompanato, who was murdered by her teenage daughter. Very stormy story. A.

Malcolm. From Scottish Gaelic Máel Coluim, which means "disciple of Saint Columba" -- but Malcolm is perhaps best known as the character in Shakespeare's Macbeth who kills the usurper and reclaims the throne of Scotland that was rightfully his. A vengeful king's name is fine for a winter storm. A.

Nathaniel. Hebrew for "God has given." I suppose God has given us winter storms, among other things. B.

Orlena. Possibly a variant of Orleana (from New Orleans) or Arlena (a form of Arlene). Nothing about New Orleans to suggest harsh winter weather, is there? F.

Peggy. Well, that’s my name and I don’t want it slapped on a cold, cruel force of nature!. Anyway, it comes from Margaret, which means “pearl” – a serene, shining gem of the sea. F.

Quade. A variant spelling of the Irish surname Quaid, which is itself a variant of MacQuaid --or in Irish Gaelic, Mac Uaid, meaning "son of Uaid." All this Irish background brings to mind leprechauns, shamrocks, and shillelaghs and maybe rainbows...but not the blizzards of winter. C-. 

Roland. Originally a Germanic name meaning "brave land." The most famous Roland was the hero of the French epic poem, La Chanson de Roland." The names of legendary knights are suitable for winter storms. A.

Shirley. OK, this is the worst of the bunch, hands down. Shirley comes from the Old English for "bright clearing" …. but when you hear the name I dare you to think of anything but that adorable moppet/child star Shirley Temple, and her signature song, “On the Good Ship Lollipop” (which sailed "on the sunny shore of Peppermint Bay"!) Think sunshine and toe-tapping fun, not storm clouds. F-.

Tabitha. Another bottom-drawer choice. Tabitha means "gazelle" in Aramaic, but for anyone who grew up in the '60s watching TV fare likes Bewitched (or the endless re-runs on Nickelodeon if you’re too young to have watched it the first time around), you know that Tabitha is the baby witch born to the mortal Darren and his magical mate Samantha, the star of the show. Tabitha could do a very cute little nose wiggle, and maybe she could conjure up a bit of mischief on occasion – but her name conjures up only giggles for me. F.

Uri. Means "my light" in Hebrew. But its most notable namesake is the world-famous magician and spoon-bender Uri Geller. Due to Uri’s lifelong battles against debunkers who kept proving that he was just a trickster, a storm of controversy has always followed him -- and so we'll give this one an A-

Viola. Refers to the color violet or the wildflower. These days it calls to mind the Oscar winning actress Viola Davis - who has played a few stormy roles in her day – which, coupled with the sound-association of Viola with Violent, results in a grade of A-.

Ward. Means "guard" or "protector" - another case of a storm being named for the opposite of what a storm does. F.

Xylia. From the Greek root meaning "wood." Woods are generally tranquil places - although they can be scary at times. C. 

Yardley. Old English for "wood clearing." Such a preppie name! Makes you think of lacrosse fields and polo shirts with popped collars -- but not winter storms. D.

Zayne. Originally a surname. Most associated with the famed writer of dime westerns, Zane Grey. Those pulp novels were full of sudden violence and fury - so the name is fitting for an assault of nature. A.  

Grade point average for all the TWC winter storm names of 2020-2021: 1.95, rounded up to 2.0, that is, a C.

As we keep hoping for better things in so many fields next year, this is yet another area that can stand improvement!


Still Life with Robin is published on the Cleveland ParkListserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.

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