Mike Smith has made it something of a personal mission to show the world that meteorologists aren’t the bumbling, “get paid to be wrong” Keystone Kops of the scientific community that a lot of people make us out to be. He doesn’t say everything is perfect, but meteorology has come a long way in the last few decades, saving a lot of lives (and money) in the process.
Whether he’s been successful in convincing the public of that or not aside, The Weather Channel’s unilateral plan to name winter storms, without coordination with the National Weather Service, threatens to set him – and us – all back a good bit. Take, for example, TWC’s stance on the winter storm moving into the northern Plains right now. Because it didn’t meet their “geographic” and “population” criteria, this storm will not get one of the names they’ve laid out for the season. Their winter weather expert Tom Niziol, former Meteorologist-in-Charge at the Buffalo NWS office, and Jim Cantore even had to spend time yesterday afternoon explaining why this “overachiever” of an early winter storm won’t get a name.
Yet, here we are, less than a day later, and “winter storm” warnings have been posted by the National Weather Service for that storm – and more are expected:
Even the most charitable assessment of this makes us as a weather enterprise – a supposed partnership between the National Weather Service, national and local weather media, emergency managers, and others – look like we don’t have our act together. TWC said they wanted to reduce confusion with naming winter storms, but how is this situation – where the agency actually responsible for deciding whether something is a winter storm or not says it is but a large, national media outlet says it is not – going to do anything but generate confusion?
UPDATE (6:25pm Thursday): Don’t look now, but the unnamed system in question has dumped over a foot of snow in parts of Minnesota. The Weather Channel meteorologist Jim Cantore even tweeted about the “One FOOT club” (his emphasis) and the likelihood for “protracted power outages”, per the NWS: