Storm Brewing Over Naming Weather as Athena Bumps Sandy From Radar


The Weather Channel has named the nor’easter winter storm that’s now bringing snow to New York City and environs after the Greek goddess-inspired Athena. The all-weather, all the time brands admits it’s a ploy to bring attention (and own the conversation) about the post-Hurricane Sandy ice storm that’s threatening to blanket gloom on those relief efforts. 

“Without Sandy, we may not have named this storm,” the Weather Channel admits. “However, one of our main reasons for naming events is societal impact. With so many people still under recovery efforts — even well inland — the combination of heavy, wet snow and wind prompted the decision to name this storm.”

The U.S. National Weather Service, however, isn’t impressed. It’s refusing to acknowledge or condone Athena — or any other storm names emanating from Weather Channel HQ in Atlanta.[more]

“TWC has named the Nor’easter Athena,” the National Weather Service stated. “The NWS does not use name winter storms in our products. Please refrain from using the term Athena in any of our products.” (“Products,” by the way, is what the NWS refers to as their forecasts and information.)

Weather Channel rival Accuweather is peeved at the naming and branding of storms, too. “In unilaterally deciding to name winter storms, The Weather Channel has confused media spin with science and public safety,” Myers stated. “We have explored this issue for 20 years and have found that this is not good science and will mislead the public.”

In an earlier missive on storm-naming, Weather elaborated, “Our goal is to better communicate the threat and the timing of the significant impacts that accompany these events. The fact is, a storm with a name is easier to follow, which will mean fewer surprises and more preparation.”

As names go, Athena’s certainly packs a punch: Greek goddess of war, guardian of Athens (her namesake city), and a multi-tasking goddess of wisdom, arts and crafts, spinning and weaving, inventor of the flute, the plough and the ox-yoke, the horse bridle and the chariot for good measure. You may recall that she sprang fully-grown (and fully-armed) from the head of her dad, the mayor of Mount Olympus father, Zeus.

Part of the issue in this naming squall is that the NWS is in the storm-naming business itself, and has been for 62 years. As Interbrand’s Rob Meyerson notes in a pre-Sandy blog post about storm naming,

Do you know the inspiration for the National Weather Service to begin giving major storms personal names comes from a 1941 science fiction novel? The origin of this naming convention is George Stewart’s Storm, starring a storm dubbed ‘Maria.’ The alphabetical approach, naming hurricanes and tropical storms alphabetically throughout each calendar year, was formalized in 1950, and originally only female names were used. In the interest of fairness, the convention of only naming terrible storms after women ended in 1979, when male names for storms were introduced.

The NWS can’t stop #Athena, however, which is already a trending hashtag on Twitter, and was used by New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo in a tweet warning drivers about road conditions.

What’s your forecast: Will the public pay more attention to the mightily-named Athena or other storms than they will about updates on “products” — weather or not? Is this fear marketing and a ploy for TV ratings — or smart branding and a public service? Share your thoughts below.