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March 14, 2017

Why NYCAviation Uses The Weather Channel’s Winter Storm Naming System

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By: Phil Derner Jr.
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Winter Storm Stella came along, and we saw it coming. Not the storm coming, but the Twitter replies…

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If I had a nickel for every time someone tweeted that to us, I’d probably be able to buy my own doppler radar. We at NYCAviation actively use the winter storm naming system in the article and social media coverage that we provide. Admittedly, even members of our own team voice their opposing views on its usage, I won’t lie. I myself am the driver of this.

I understand people’s beef with what they feel is a marketing “ploy,” and the fact that the National Weather Service does not sanction or approve of names for winter storms. But I hope that if people could just hold that thought for a moment to consider the benefits of the naming system and weigh it against their opposition, that we can at least walk away agreeing to disagree respectfully. Or if the NWS wants to start doing the naming themselves for the below reasons, we can all just end the debate once and for all.

The biggest reason for us is social media. Many of the storm names that TWC uses are 4 or 5 letters, and being so active on Twitter, it gives us a uniform hashtag to use for that particular storm while helping with character limits. These hashtags are important because people do use them to find information. The more uniform the hash, the more people can get a wider spectrum of information that they need to make decisions about how weather will affect their plans and safety. Safety drives our decision to streamline information, simple as that. We do the same for all forms of news — it is the age of the hashtag, so we need something we can all use.

Generic hashtags of #storm, #winterstorm, #snowstorm, #snowpocalypse, #snowmageddon and others are cute, but vague. They also become totally useless when there is information within that hashtag from old storms, which often gets retweeted into current times, or reference other storms also taking place concurrently elsewhere, creating confusion.

Naming also helps tracking and reference after the storm has passed. Reviewing how a storm went and communicating that is easier when using a naming system. We can then better learn from each storm’s individually afforded lessons.

Also relevant is that most major airlines use the same naming system themselves, much of it for the tracking purposes, and because “That storm that’s sleet in Chicago right now but will be snow in the Northeast on Friday,” is a little wordy. In all fairness, many airlines use WSI (Weather Service International), a suite of weather products, for many of their weather needs. WSI is now just called The Weather Company, which is now owned by IBM Business, which also owns, you guessed it…The Weather Channel. But that doesn’t make the naming any less useful for them.

Aside from the airlines, there are many corporations, as well as city and state governments, that also reference these storm names for their own needs.

So if it is a marketing “ploy,” then I don’t care. I find it useful for the reasons above. Also, “ploy” sounds like it’s some sort of trick, as if The Weather Channel is getting one over on us. There’s a reason so many corporations, airlines and government agencies use their system — because it works, and there is demand for it. Five years later, tons of people still use it.

Furthermore, what is wrong with The Weather Channel making money? They aren’t exactly laughing all the way to the bank on this. Have you watched their programming in the last couple of years? It’s awesome. I’d much rather watch fun, useful weather programming that is provided by a smart and enthusiastic team as opposed to the “black and white and red all over” news on other channels.

So as we provide coverage on winter storms, we will use these names and hashtags. They may annoy you, but they will inform you.

As a disclaimer, I’ve appeared on The Weather Channel as a guest several times (I think 4 or 5), and I have never received any payment from them in any capacity. I have no other true bias toward them, other than being a fan of their output, which I find entertaining, informative, and refreshing.

Phil Derner founded NYCAviation in 2003. A lifetime aviation enthusiast that grew up across the water from La Guardia Airport, Phil has aviation experience as a Loadmaster, Operations Controller and Flight Dispatcher. He owns and operates NYCAviation and performs duties as an aviation expert through writing, consulting, public speaking and media appearances. You can reach him by email or follow him on Twitter.


  • John Huntington

    I think the “what’s wrong with the Weather Channel making money?” is a straw man argument. I love the Weather Channel and watch it all the time, but I think they are wrong on this one. The main problem to me is what are the boundaries of “Stella”? A hurricane has an eye, and we have strength categories based on clear wind speed criteria, etc. so everyone can know where the center is, and it’s a cohesive thing and we can all agree on its boundaries. This nor’easter is a messy blob with a center which weather geeks can find on a pressure map, but very few people who aren’t weather geeks could tell you where it is or what the extent of the storm is. The impacts of this storm are all over the place and the general public has no idea what’s in and out of the storm because no one really knows. Also, when did “Stella” begin and when does it end? The Weather Channel’s criteria for naming storms includes population impact, so I guess they retire the name whenever they feel like it. If you want to ride someone’s social media coat tails, why not Stephen Colbert’s? with his Crazy Balls name?

    • Phil Derner

      What you are saying about deciphering pressure maps is exactly why I feel these names are useful…meteorologists can interpret it and send that info out using the names and tags so that we CAN know its boundaries.

      And if they started getting ridiculous in names or coverage, then I’d steer clear. But I feel they’d be responsible and helpful with it thus far.

    • John Huntington

      Well that’s the key, it’s not “meteorologists” in general making the determination, it’s the Weather Channel doing it unilaterally. If they wanted to get together a group–including reps from the other broadcast networks, Accuweather, and others outside the Weather Channel–and publish a clear criteria and agree on names, I’d be all for it. The National Weather Service wouldn’t even need to be involved; they could easily do this all at one National Weather Association meeting. As far as I know, the Weather Channel doesn’t publish any storm boundaries, etc (and remember that weather.com is no longer owned by the same company that owns the TV channel) so none of what you’re saying is actually happening now. No one can “interpret” any of it since it’s a proprietary, unilateral decision. And since it’s a competitive market this unilateral move just makes it all worse–ABC, CBS, Accuweather, etc–anyone who is a competitor to the Weather Channel–will >>never<< use the names as long as it's controlled by the Weather Channel, which still (for now) has ties to NBC. You really think that's helping the cause? I really respect you guys, but you're just furthering the chaos here.

  • Rob Dale

    Can you provide a reference that shows people who don’t follow you on Twitter still get your information from a hashtag search? Have you done a search on #Stella to see how many dozens of tweets are coming in per second?