NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Opinion

October 8, 2012

Let's stop marketing the weather

It’s only the second week of October, but one thing is certain: Winter is coming.

New Hampshire’s Mount Washington, the highest peak in the East, has already seen enough snow for weather observers stationed there to make a small snowman. Hardware stores have started to lay out shovels and rock salt, ski areas are advertising their snow-making prowess, and at least a few department stores are already stocking Christmas decorations.

And local weather forecasters are coming up with silly names such as “Snowpocalypse” and “Snowmageddon” to describe winter storms. Our parents and grandparents used to tromp through 6- to 10-inch snowfalls on the way to school without a second thought. Nowadays, weather news is as much entertainment as information, and every impending dusting is treated like the Blizzard of ‘78.

And the silly season is about to get worse, thanks to the folks over at the Weather Channel, who have decided to start naming winter storms, much like the National Weather Service names hurricanes.

“On a national scale, the most intense winter storms acquire a name through some aspect of pop culture and now social media; for example, Snowmageddon and Snotober,” the Weather Channel’s Tom Niziol told the USA Today. Most of the names will have a Greek or Roman theme — think Athena, Brutus and Caesar.

We can think of the headlines now: “Mars blasts Merrimac,” “Nestor buries Newburyport” or “Spartacus slays Salisbury.” The Weather Channel folks say they’re just trying to raise public awareness about the storms. We suspect they’re also trying to raise public awareness about the Weather Channel. Give a storm a name, and you lend it an air of danger, which keeps viewers’ eyes glued to the screen (when they’re not out raiding supermarkets for milk, eggs and batteries).

Lest you think we’re the only cranky ones, here’s Joel N. Myers, founder and president of AccuWeather: “In unilaterally deciding to name winter storms, The Weather Channel has confused media spin with science and public and public safety and is doing a disservice to the field of meteorology and public service.

“This is not good science and will actually mislead the public.”

We agree. This is New England, after all, where winter isn’t a cause for panic. Or at least it didn’t used to be.

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