What’s in a name? Everything if you’re in storm branding—the latest battleground for weather services eager to claim mindshare in an increasingly crowded media space.
This week's Nor'easter was called the "East Coast Blizzard" by AccuWeather, "Major Winter Storm" by the National Weather Service, "Bethany" in Connecticut, and "Hercules" by The Weather Channel and most everyone else, including Governors Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo, who both tweeted messages about the storm using the TV/web/mobile network's #Hercules hashtag.
In addition to annoying horror writer Stephen King (who dubbed the practice "dorky" to his Twitter followers) and other weather-watching brands by pushing Athena, Sandy and Nemo, The Weather Channel's practice of branding storms (this Western winter season, with the help of a high school Latin class in Bozeman, Montana) has irked the World Meteorological Organization, a 191-member organization based in Geneva.
The squall has come to a head since the cable network decided to start naming pretty much every major storm in 2012, while the WMO only names tropical storms.
“As weather, climate and the water cycle know no national boundaries, international cooperation at a global scale is essential for the development of meteorology and operational hydrology as well as to reap the benefits from their application. WMO provides the framework for such international cooperation," the Wire notes. But The Weather Channel has its own theories on the matter of naming storms.
“Important dividends have resulted from attaching names to these storms,” TWC explains. “A storm with a name takes on a personality all its own, which adds to awareness.” Besides driving buzz and SEO rankings, the brand that owns the hashtag wins, as the media company continued: “In today’s social media world, a name makes it much easier to reference in communication.”
While some (such as Digiday) argue that branding storms isn't a win for The Weather Channel, its meteorologist Bryan Norcross defends the practice: “Our first year of naming storms proved that it worked, and we were thrilled with the result, which was an ideal demonstration of the intersection of social media and television.”
Indeed, storm name hashtags have been used with tropical storms and hurricanes for years, but Nemo’s billion-plus Twitter impressions last year triggered its application to winter storms—a habit that has proven both annoying and entertaining for a lot of weather watchers, but ultimately lucrative for the recently-redesigned cable network.
The US National Weather Service has been storm-naming for more than six decades, a habit that was inspired by a 1941 science fiction novel, according to Interbrand's Rob Meyerson. “The origin of this naming convention is George Stewart's Storm, starring a storm dubbed ‘Maria.’ The brilliance of this naming convention is that meteorologists don't have to scramble for a name when a storm is brewing and there's consistency without competing names for new storms…Brand managers who oversee large portfolios could benefit from a similarly systematic approach—what we'd call a naming or nomenclature system.”
Speaking of nomenclature, Hercules is the Roman name for the Greek divine hero Heracles, son of Zeus and the mortal Alcmene. In classical mythology, Hercules is renowned for his strength and far-ranging adventures. The names for 2013-14 storms were created for The Weather Channel by students at Bozeman High School in Bozeman, Mont., as a Latin class assignment and are drawn primarily from Greek and Roman mythology.
But even native Greeks are having a hard time ignoring the quirkiness of 2014's first major storm.
Update: Thanks to meteorologist Nate Johnson and others for responding to our story on Twitter. Your thoughts? Share them below.