Paul Gross: Naming winter storms is ridiculous -- here’s why

A woman pulls a child on a sled across the intersection of Bayaud Avenue and South Washington Street as a winter storm sweeps over the intermountain West Wednesday Feb. 2, 2022, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski) (David Zalubowski, Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

4Warn Weather – You’ve probably heard the Weather Channel refer to any winter storm of substance by a name.

So, why don’t you hear the 4Warn meteorologists (or anybody else) call winter storms by names? Because it’s ridiculous.

The Weather Channel staff just decided themselves years ago to start naming significant winter storms. That’s it. There is nothing official about this. The National Weather Service has explicitly stated that they will not do this, and neither will we at Local 4. You don’t see these storms called by name on NBC Nightly News, either.

So, why did The Weather Channel start doing this? There’s one reason: It’s all about hype and trying to sensationalize to get people to watch.

Hurricanes are given names because there can be two (or more) storms existing at the same time, and having names makes it easy for the public to focus on the one storm that may impact where they live. It reduces confusion. Plus, hurricanes create a significant risk to life and property over a large area.

There is no need whatsoever to name winter storms.

Rarely are there ever two completely different significant winter storms affecting the same region of the country. There’s no confusion by the public as to which storm their local meteorologists are talking about.

Furthermore, naming winter storms instills unnecessary fear into some people, because you are assigning a perceived similar level of risk to that winter storm as you might a hurricane.

It’s all about hype, and I conveyed this at an American Meteorological Society conference directly to my colleague (and friend) at the Weather Channel who helped develop this. But, as I also told him, now that the cat is out of the bag, we’ll never get it back.

So, please don’t buy into the hype. We 4Warn meteorologists are very responsible about our winter storm coverage. We will tell you honestly just how impactful a storm will be, and also be honest about our certainty or uncertainty.

And don’t get me started about severe winter storms in Europe. There, people can actually pay money to name a storm ... but I hear that the money goes to a worthy cause.

See: The latest weather news for Metro Detroit here

About the Author:

Local 4 meteorologist Paul Gross was born in Detroit and has spent his entire life and career right here in southeast Michigan. Paul has researched, written and produced eight half-hour documentaries for WDIV, as well as many science, historical and environmental stories.