Juno. Nemo. Jonas.
These are names that might stick in your memory. When The Weather Channel began naming winter storms during the winter of 2012-13, senior meteorologist Bryan Norcross explained, “It’s simply easier to communicate about a complex storm if it has a name, which our naming program has demonstrated.”
Adam Rainear, a doctoral student at the University of Connecticut’s Department of Communications, wanted to find out if “easier to communicate” meant easier for the public to understand as well.
Winter storm naming is a controversial topic in the weather community. AccuWeather, based in State College, Pennsylvania, has publicly come out against the naming. In addition, the National Weather Service does not name winter storms.
“If there were climate change, people would say, ‘Where is your information? Prove it.’ So, instead of having people arguing, I wanted to use science and data to prove whether this is actually effective,” Rainear often thought to himself, he said.
Sampling 407 university students as part of his Mass Communications graduate class, Rainear, Kenneth Lachlan and Carlyon Lin designed an experiment to test their theory. He designed three Tweets that looked like they came from The Weather Channel, explaining the threat for a winter storm.
One Tweet did not use a storm name, one used a name from their 2014-15 list, Zelus — which was not used that winter — and one used an “Americanized name,” Bill.
Then he asked the students to rate each Tweet based on three factors: source credibility, favorable reaction to the name, and severity of susceptibility (how severe they believed the storm would be).
What did the results show?
In terms of source credibility, the participants gave the Tweet with no name at all a 3 out of 5. A Tweet with Bill and Zelus scored lower, 2.83 to 2.93, respectively, but that was not found to be significant, Rainear said.
Patrick Orlando, of Linwood, echos these findings.
“Whether it’s a winter storm bringing 10 inches of snow or Winter Storm Celeste, I am going to prepare the same way,” Orlando said.
Talking about whether the type of name had an impact, Rainear said, “The Americanized names did not have any difference in importance compared to the off the wall names.”
However, The Weather Channel says, “The storm-naming program raises awareness and reduces the risks, danger and confusion for residents in the storms’ paths.”
A typical argument from the meteorological community against the Weather Channel’s naming of winter storms is that it is used as a promotional or marketing tool. It would be better if the government issued a name, similar to tropical storms and hurricanes now.
Turns out, the American Meteorological Society is doing just that. Rainear is the co-chair of the Ad Hoc Committee on Naming Winter Storms, which is in charge of discussion and additional research of whether the National Weather Service should give out the names. Rainear works with meteorologists, including from The Weather Channel and the government, to find a solution.
“The question going forward should be less about whether the type of name is useful to the public perception, but whether having a name it is useful at all,” he said.