Don’t Call It Hercules, National Weather Service Explains Why

January 3, 2014 | Andy Cush

Do not call this winter storm “Hercules.” It’s not the thing’s name–winter storms don’t have names–and besides, it’s a silly thing to call what was ultimately pretty minor event anyway.

In a stroke of evil genius, The Weather Channel began giving its own names to winter storms in 2012. Gawker explained why this is bad last year, during a February storm that definitely wasn’t named for a cute computer-animated clownfish. Basically, it amounts to this: every time you say “Hercules,” you are bending to the will of a corporate marketing scheme, driving TWC’s search engine traffic, and muddling the work of every meteorologist whose paycheck isn’t signed by NBCUniversal, Inc.

ANIMAL asked the National Weather Service, the branch of the federal Department of Commerce that provides weather information to the public, why it doesn’t recognize the Weather Channel’s storm names. Here’s what they told us, in full:

The National Weather Service does not name winter storms and there are no plans to consider naming such storms. Our forecasts and alerts are focused on communicating specific impacts that are expected. With any type of storm, impacts can vary widely and over a very large area, and it’s critical that people understand exactly what to expect in the area in which they are in or will travel to.

Only storms classified as tropical storms receive a name, from a list established by an international committee of the U.N. World Meteorological Organization, once they achieve the universal criteria of becoming an organized area of low pressure with top winds of 39mph. Storms maintain their name throughout their lifespan, either in strengthening to a hurricane or weakening to a tropical depression. Names are given to these systems because they are discrete, naming provides a common link as these storms traverse international boundaries and multiple languages, and to distinguish between multiple storms that may threaten a region concurrently. Unlike tropical systems, winter storms are more diverse with impacts that evolve throughout the storm’s lifespan.

In other words, the NWS names tropical storms because it makes sense to; they are discrete, identifiable things, and giving them names simplifies the communication surrounding them. Winter storms, on the other hand, are not so tidy. Forecasting the effects of “Hercules” doesn’t make much sense when Brooklyn gets 10 inches of snow and Boston’s North Shore gets two feet.

Resist the temptation to hashtag your snowfies with #Hercules. You are not the Weather Channel’s stooge; stop acting like it.

(Photo: Michael Tapp)