FORT KENT, Maine — Unless you’ve been under a very warm rock these past couple of weeks, you are well aware winter has arrived in Maine — with a vengeance.
Combinations of ice, snow, wind and rain created holiday headaches as thousands of residents faced the busy pre-Christmas weekend that saw travel snarled from one end of the country to the other.
Hundreds of linemen and utility workers have spent days — many forgoing Christmas with family — working to restore power to the thousands that used candles to mark the way for Santa on Christmas Eve.
But Mainers are hardy folk and are not about to let even the most severe of ice storms get the better of them. Rather, we hunker down, take stock of what’s on hand, share with our neighbors and ride it out.
Sure, we may light candles and curse the darkness if the ice cream or beer runs out, but now, thanks to the folks at the Weather Channel, we at least have someone at whom to curse.
In a somewhat jumping-the-shark move last year, the Weather Channel announced it would start to name significant winter storm events, “with the goals of making communications and information sharing easier, and better alerting residents to forecasts for storms that could significantly affect their lives.”
Since this was a unilateral move with no connection at all to the National Weather Service or World Meteorological Organization, which names hurricanes, the Weather Channel not only gets to decide which winter storms are significant, they get to pick the names.
So it may be of interest to Mainers in the current ice zone to know that it was Winter Storm Gemini which had them eating canned tuna and crackers rather than roast goose with plum pudding on Christmas.
“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,” said Bryan Norcross, meteorologist and storm specialist at The Weather Channel, in a press release on the network’s webpage. “The winter storm names enabled simpler and more focused communications around forecasts and preparedness information on The Weather Channel and in other media outlets, and during the big storms like Nemo, the names became a handy way for the public to receive and exchange information.”
In fact, according to Norcross, Nemo was mentioned in more than 1 million tweets last February.
What he does not say is how many of those tweets were questioning the validity of actually naming winter storms.
This year’s names were actually developed by a high school Latin language class from Bozeman, Mont.
Not all too surprisingly, the students selected figures from Greek and Roman mythology, because really, nothing says cutting-edge social media communication like ancient mythological beings and a dead language.
According to the Weather Channel’s release, “Improving communications is a key part of The Weather Channel’s core mission to keep the public safe and informed in severe-weather events. During the winter months, many people are impacted by freezing temperatures, flooding, power outages, travel disruptions and other impacts caused by snow and ice storms. The storm-naming program raises awareness and reduces the risks, danger and confusion for residents in the storms’ paths.”
Fair enough, but here’s my question.
With hurricanes, it’s a pretty obvious event — a tropical depression forms far out to sea, churns its way toward North America and, if it holds together, becomes a full-on named storm.
But winter storms seem to me a bit more fickle, nowhere near as well focused.
A storm could start dropping snow over the Cascades, ease up by the time it hits the Rockies and decide to break up, with one weathermaker heading south while wind, rain, sleet, snow or ice travels east.
How does one name something so disorganized?
According to its website, The Weather Channel is using exacting criteria in naming winter storms.
“The storm-naming criteria are based on National Weather Service thresholds for winter-weather warnings and the storm’s expected impacts on a population center or over a large geographic area. Winter storms will be named whenever the predicted weather exceeds the naming criteria. Storms that do not exceed the criteria may also be named, on occasion, when the impacts are forecast to be especially unusual, historic, or significant.”
And apparently, I was not the only one to make the hurricane-winter storm contrast.
“In unilaterally deciding to name winter storms, The Weather Channel has confused media spin with science and public safety. We have explored this issue for 20 years and have found that this is not good science and will mislead the public. Winter storms are very different from hurricanes. Hurricanes are well-defined storms following a path that can be tracked. Winter storms are often erratic, affecting different areas unevenly. Their centers may not be well-defined. There may be multiple centers and they often shift. One area may get a blizzard, while places not too far away may experience rain or fog, or nothing at all. Naming a winter storm that may deliver such varied weather will create more confusion in the public and the emergency management community.”
It’s doubtful The Weather Channel is going to back off from naming winter storms, so perhaps the best thing is a sort of “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” approach.
If a Latin class from Bozeman can come up with some names, I’m betting a bunch of iced and snowed-in Mainers can really deliver.
How about Winter Storm Moxie?
Certainly Winter Storm Chummy would not cause too much concern, but Winter Storm Allen’s Coffee Brandy would no doubt prompt shelves-clearing madness at stores around the state.
Other monikers my friends and I came up with included Wicked Pissah, Moose, Lobstah, Katahdin, Bert & I, Logger, Potato, Pamola, Buckwheat, Moudite, Frost Heave, Margaret Chase Smith and Evangeline.
But whatever we do, we’d better do it quickly before Winter Storm Hercules is upon us.