The next new weather trend that may have been around for years


A few years ago, I had the television on in the background. A winter storm was headed our way, and the weather forecasts were updating things a bit more frequently each hour or so, and in a fun new twist, they had even named the storm.

I finished up what I was working on and went to the living room, started watching television with my wife, and a news update came on. The person delivering the weather began talking about a totally different storm. Or so it seemed. Eventually, it became apparent she was talking about the same storm, but using a different name.

I’ve done some research into the matter, and it turns out that the naming of winter storms is kind of a controversial subject in weather communities. The main reasons seem to stem from two ideas: (1) Unlike tropical storms—you know, the annual naming of hurricanes and such—there are no officially created and utilized lists of storm names for the winter. There is no agency or effort recognized as the official this or that responsible for naming falling snow around the world this winter. (2) Winter storms are more common on a nationwide level than something like hurricanes. And beyond storm frequency, the idea of what to name, when to rename if a storm breaks apart and reforms, and all sorts of other difficulties come into play.

Most sources seem to point to The Weather Channel as the evil entity in winter storm naming. Although there are records dating back plenty of years (even centuries) assigning names to winter storms, it is The Weather Channel that seems to get credit for kicking off the trend in recent years, when they began naming them in the 2012-2013 winter. (Appears that was motivated by naming a Halloween storm in 2011.)

In the end, most places seem to suggest one common element in the practice: ratings. Ok, not ratings specifically, but the idea of creating memorable, sensationalized, buzz-worthy news. (“Snow on the way” doesn’t exactly get you moving, especially in locations used to heavy accumulation totals. “Winter Storm Douglas arriving late morning” has a bit of weight to it. I mean, after all, it’s significant enough to get a name. Perhaps I should pay attention.)

Trouble starts because of that note pointing out no one is recognized for creating a single list to use. And, frankly, I don’t know that anyone would want to do the job. With swirling weather patterns delivering snow and ice and such all over the country at different times, what kind of list might need to be prepared?

There are no specific qualifications that are universally cited and agreed upon. A national source might have something that pertains to wind speeds, visibility, duration, potential accumulation totals and such. On the other hand, your local news Doppler Weather Radar 8600 420K Report with Spiffy Jim wants to be your source for weather accuracy. So, they have a region mapped out… their viewing region… and if a might flake drop, the darn thing gets a name.

Different lists for naming storms. Some national. Some local. Nor’easter Alice and Nor’easter Craig both headed our way. It’s the same darn storm. Ugh.

Regardless, I didn’t start this essay to talk about naming the arriving snow storms.

I wanted to mention bomb cyclones.

See, much like the lists for naming winter weather patterns, I’ve noticed that we seem to be hearing a ton of new terms being used. Some make sense. Thundersnow? I actually get that one. Thunder and lightning during a snow storm. That name works.

But then, there it is… bomb cyclone.

The term seems to have found its official way into the meteorological world around 1980. While the term bomb had some informal use prior to that, it was a paper released forty years ago that seems to have given some direction and specifics to the idea. (That was when measurable attributes apparently were outlined and accepted for the concept.)

All of this is great, but it also outlines the problem. It’s one thing when everyone understands what you’re talking about. Perhaps not specifics, but general expectations. I may not know exactly what conditions need to be met for a storm to be called a blizzard, but I know it’s going to be a lot of craziness and to stay off the roads if it isn’t essential. Same idea when a hurricane is approaching.

Then again, I may not be the person to ask about any of this. After all, the majority of my weather reports these days are provided by the cows in the field around the corner from my house. I learned when I was a kid what to expect when cows are lying down, so that’s when I check to make sure I have an umbrella.

Cow bomb cyclones. Hmm… maybe this is a movie idea I need to try and pitch.


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