A blizzard named Blanche, controversial winter storm name list released

This winter season, blizzards named Blanche and nor’easters dubbed Niko could descend on portions of the country after the Weather Channel debuted its controversial winter storm names this morning.

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The Weather Channel, which began naming winter storms four years ago, released its 2016-17 list of Greek, Latin and French-themed names during a Facebook live broadcast this morning.

The list is part of a tradition the company started in an effort it said to better communicate severe weather.

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This year’s list includes names such as Decima, one of the fates in Roman mythology, and Blanche, the French word for white.

The last name on the list is Zeno. The Weather Channel said this name comes from the Greek name Zenon, derived from the name of mythological god of the thunder and the sky, Zeus.

“The corporate level of the Weather Channel thought it would be important to name winter storms and it felt by naming the storms it brings more notoriety, and particularly on social media, you can hashtag a storm and get all the information on that storm,” said Tom Niziol, a meteorologist with the Weather Channel.

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 25: Scott Behrens dives for the ball during a friendly game of volleyball with friends in the snow January 25, 2016 in Washington, DC. Winter Storm Jonas hit the East Coast over the weekend, breaking snowfall records, closing places of work, causing 29 storm-related deaths, leaving thousands of homes without power and serious flooding in coastal areas. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, DC – Scott Behrens dives for the ball during a friendly game of volleyball with friends in the snow January 25, 2016 in Washington, DC. Winter Storm Jonas hit the East Coast over the weekend, breaking snowfall records. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

But the practice of naming winter storms has raised the ire of some major meteorological forums that are refusing to adopt The Weather Channel’s decision, saying it’s based on bad science.

“Ultimately The Weather Channel unilaterally decided to name winter storms and confused media spin with meteorology,” Marshall Moss, vice president for forecasting operations at the Pennsylvania-based AccuWeather, told The Palm Beach Post last year. “The public may end up being misled.”

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Some comments this morning on the Facebook live broadcast were negative enough that meteorologist Stephanie Abrams asked for a little more tact be used in the posts.

Winter storm Jonas gathers itself on Thursday. Near-record sea surface temperatures in the mid-Atlantic – which scientists suggest are driven in part by global warming – are helping to fuel this storm. Credits: NASA/NOAA GOES Project

Winter storm Jonas gathers itself in Januar 2016. Near-record sea surface temperatures in the mid-Atlantic – are helping to fuel this storm. Credits: NASA/NOAA GOES Project

“There was tremendous negative feedback and many people wondered why the government isn’t doing this and why it’s the Weather Channel doing this,” Niziol said.

The naming is different than with hurricane names, which are chosen by the World Meteorological Organization.

Unlike with hurricanes, no winter storm names are retired by the Weather Channel if they cause significant damage, and there isn’t a rotating list.

“It’s simply easier to communicate about a complex (winter) storm if it has a name, which our naming program has demonstrated,” said Bryan Norcross, senior hurricane specialist at The Weather Channel and compiler of the list. “Good communications benefits everyone.”

The Weather Channel uses a system it developed called IMPACT, for Integrated Meteorological Population and Area Calculation Tool, to decide how an area will be affected by a winter storm. A winter storm may get a name when it meets the National Weather Service’s winterstorm warning criteria and is expected to impact at least 2 million people and/or 400,000 square kilometers.

The Bozeman, Montana, High School Latin class, which has contributed to the winter storm name list since 2013-2014, once again contributed to the 2016-2017 list.

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