Not everyone is happy with Hercules
For the last week and a half a storm of rare magnitude and intensity has buffetted the North Atlantic Basin. It began its life as a pool of cold air coming off the Canadian Shield that formed a low pressure system which then impacted the whole US East Coast. Temperatures plummeted as the storm intensified and many regions and cities hit record low temperatures.
As the storm cut a swathe across the East Coast, The Weather Channel, an American weather and media company, continued the practice they began three years ago of naming significant winter storm systems. The current storm received the name, 'Hercules'.
As soon as it had been named other media outlets and social media users immediately adopted the title. The name spread as the storm moved into the North Atlantic ocean and prepared to send a large swell – the largest in recent history – to all of west-facing Europe. The 'Hercules storm' fast became an event of international significance.
However, despite the widespread acceptance of the name not everyone is happy about its use. In the US, the government run National Weather Service (NWS) has asked its forecasters not to use the name Hercules nor any other name The Weather Channel gives to storms. Last November NWS spokesperson Susan Buchanan stated, "The National Weather Service does not name winter storms because a winter storm's impact can vary from one location to another, and storms can weaken and redevelop, making it difficult to define where one ends and another begins."
Unlike tropical cyclones, which are small, closed systems that make it easy for forecasters to delineate lifecycle and area of impact, winter storms can morph and change making it difficult to track and potentially dangerous to name.
US private weather company Accuweather, a competitor of The Weather Company, also disagree with the practice. Last October their CEO, Barry Lee Myers, said, “In unilaterally deciding to name winter storms, The Weather Channel has confused media spin with science and public safety and is doing a disservice to the field of meteorology and public service.”
Lee Myers also admitted, “They are a media company, and we live in a free country.” Before adding, “We just see confusion resulting when people want to know how a storm will affect them.”
The charge of media spin is contentious and appears not entirely unfounded. Rather than picking random, neutral names, as is the practice of all government agencies that name cyclones (or hurricanes and typhoons), The Weather Channel chooses more grandiose names in an apparent attempt to sensationalise the storm. Before Hercules they named previous systems Brutus, Caesar, Gandolf, and Khan.
In defence of The Weather Channel's practice a senior director, Bryan Norcross, said, "The fact is, a storm with a name is easier to follow, which will mean fewer surprises and more preparation."
In Australia the convention of naming Australian tropical cyclones began in 1964. However, between 1887 and 1902 Clement Wragge, Government meteorologist in Queensland, initiated the practice by naming weather systems after anything from mythological creatures to politicians who annoyed him.