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We're getting hit by an avalanche of names

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By Nafari Vanaski
Thursday, March 14, 2013, 11:28 a.m.
 

Pittsburgh was clobbered by maybe a half-inch of snow on Wednesday. Some places in the suburbs were hit far worse, like an inch or something. In the ridges of Fayette and Westmoreland counties, and in western Maryland and northern West Virginia, 3 to 6 inches or more of snowfall was projected.

That might or might not be enough to earn a winter storm a name.

In case you missed it, The Weather Channel has taken to naming winter storms. Perhaps the channel's Storm Survival Kits containing a raincoat and a paddle weren't selling well, and they needed another marketing tool. But people quickly picked up on storm names in online postings, so you, too, can capitalize on this trend.

Remember the snow last week that closed half the area's schools and then melted about an hour after it fell? That storm was Saturn. Like the planet.

Naming storms isn't a foreign idea. The National Weather Service gives hurricanes names by alphabetical order. Because there can be more than one storm forming, naming them makes them easier to track. The service has said repeatedly, however, that it does not intend to name winter storms.

Enter The Weather Channel and its strict standards about naming storms. For example, the network waits until a few days before a storm hits and then names it — maybe to increase the likelihood that significant snowfall worthy of naming rights will result.

Another factor for naming is whether the storm will hit during the week or weekend, and the possibility that it will affect metropolitan areas around rush hour.

Doesn't sound scientific or meteorological, does it? Aside from following the same alphabet-based pattern, the methodology's a bit light. To understand this newest stunt, though, you have to understand The Weather Channel, or TWC, as its known on many cable channel guides.

Who watches The Weather Channel all day, besides the South and people who lost their remote controls? No one. You have to make weather interesting enough to get people to tune in more than five minutes.

Although TWC has said it names winter storms to raise public awareness of blizzards and ice storms — regardless of severity — there's probably another motive. From its website: “Finally, it might even be fun and entertaining and that in itself should breed interest from our viewing public and our digital users.”

That does sound like fun — to name a storm Nemo, hashtag it on Twitter and see what happens. What's better to raise awareness than to Photoshop an animated fish in the middle of a radar map showing a fierce blizzard?

Wednesday's dusting didn't earn a name. But we may get more snow this week. Wouldn't it be “fun” if everyone named the storms? I mean, why should we be saddled with the name “Ukko”? (Yes, TWC named 20 storms this year, and that's next up. Someone's a little flurry-happy.)

Because the effects of a winter storm can vary greatly between regions, we should take ownership and go with our own name that says “Pittsburgh 2013.”

Maybe Winter Storm Nate? Or Luke? Or Scandalgeddon?

Nafari Vanaski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8669, nvanaski@tribweb.com or on Twitter @NafariTrib.

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