How Do Storms Get Their Names? It's A Lot More Controversial Than You Think


Juno, Juno, Juno. That's one of the biggest names you'll be hearing over the next few days, especially if you live in the northeast.

No, the country doesn't have a sudden renewed interest in the ancient Roman goddess or the 2007 Ellen Page movie. All eyes are on what sounds like will be the winter storm of the century which has been given that moniker.

So what made this storm look like a Juno and how do storms get their names at all? There is a method to it, but that doesn't mean there isn't any madness involved as well.

Storms Didn't Always Have Names

Women's names and the names of the saint's day the storm fell on were used to describe storms in the past, but most tropical storms and hurricanes were designated by year and the order in which they occurred in a single year. It wasn't until 1953 when the U.S. began using female names for tropical storms from lists originating from the National Hurricane Center. Through the years, the naming of storms came to be seen as increasingly important to quickly and clearly communicate an oncoming storm to the public, especially when more than one was occurring at the same time.

Time for a Name Change

As you might be able to gather, people didn't take too kindly to the idea that storms were only being named after women. As more and more women became meteorologists and as the social climate of the country shifted in general, the naming convention for tropical storms changed in 1979 to alternate between male and female, English, French and Spanish names, as it does today. However, while the naming convention may seem more inclusive today, some believe it is still problematic. A recent study of the death tolls of hurricanes that made landfall in the U.S. from 1950 to 2012 found that storms with feminine names were more deadly. The naming of storms is pretty arbitrary, so the researchers believed these results pointed to a "hazardous form of implicit sexism" where people did not take the precautions they should have because they thought the storms with female names would be less severe due to the stereotype that women are weaker than men. The researchers suggested taking gender out of the naming of storms to avoid this.

How Does a Storm Get its Name?

An international committee of the World Meteorological Organization maintains the name lists today. There are six lists in total, and each year has its own list of names. The lists are used in rotation and are recycled every six years, which means that 2015's list will be used again in 2021. There are also different lists for storms in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. If a storm is so deadly and damaging, its name is retired for reasons of sensitivity. Devastating storm names that have been retired recently include Katrina, Irene and Sandy.

What Does Any of This Have to do with Snow Storms?

By now we've just been talking about tropical storms, so you might be wondering how any of this applies to snow storms, and you'd be right! Snow storms aren't technically supposed to get names, at least according to the National Weather Service.

So Why is "Winter Storm Juno" a Thing?

You can thank The Weather Channel for that. In October 2012, The Weather Channel decided to begin naming winter storms, starting with Athena. Every year since then, The Weather Channel has released a list of names for the upcoming year's winter storms. The 26 names are used in alphabetical order, and in addition to Juno, the 2014 to 2015 list includes monikers like Astro, Gorgon and Thor, which sound more like names in Marvel movies than names that describe winter storms.

Naming Snow Storms is Surprisingly Controversial

While The Weather Channel maintains that naming snow storms is a scientific process and one that makes it easier to communicate information about the storms, there is a lot of backlash against this convention. Some people believe this new naming convention is just a marketing ploy and a way to sensationalize winter storms to ultimately get more people to watch The Weather Channel or visit its website. TV weathercasters have publicly criticized the system and have refused to use it in their forecasts. Weather experts say that naming snow storms in the same way you would name hurricanes is not only inappropriate but can also confuse the public, which is the last thing you want to do when their safety is involved. Still, you won't get too far on the Internet before you see an article referring to this blizzard as "Juno."

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