How do winter storms get their names?

News-DemocratJanuary 29, 2014 

Recently, I have noticed that the typical winter storms that pass through our area anonymously are given names in New England just like hurricanes. The one that blew through here last night is named Leon over there. Last week, a storm was named Janus that had come through here. When did this start and why? -- Ken H., of Belleville

Leave it to The Weather Channel to make sure that Old Man Winter doesn't get an inferiority complex.

As you're well aware, hurricanes have been given names for centuries. At first, they often were named for the saint's day on which they occurred. Later, the most destructive storms became known for the places they ravaged, such as the Galveston Hurricane of 1900.

Then in 1951, the U.S. devised a system using the Army/Navy alphabet. When a new international phonetic alphabet came along, the Able-Baker-Charlie scheme was abandoned in 1953 in favor of female names. Finally, in 1979, men had an equal chance to be remembered for a catastrophe.

The advantages of such a system are obvious, the National Weather Service says. The use of short, distinctive names was far quicker and less subject to communication errors than the older longitude-latitude methods. Moreover, when two or more storms are churning at once, the use of names helps eliminate confusion over which storm is which.

Well, The Weather Channel figured that if names help people better prepare for the onslaught of a hurricane, they also would spur them to stock up on shovels, milk and toilet paper for a coming blizzard. So for the 2012-13 storm season, the popular cable channel unilaterally began naming winter storms.

"The fact is a storm with a name is easier to follow," Tom Nizioli wrote on the channel's website. "Naming winter storms will raise awareness, which will lead to more pro-active efforts to plan ahead, resulting in less impact on the public."

Like for hurricanes, names help distinguish between storms when an area is going to be snowed by more than one in a short time. And, it's a natural for social media. Want to find the latest on its course? Just hash-tag the name and you'll quickly call up the latest info.

Some, however, are giving the idea the cold shoulder. Accuweather founder Joel Myers suggests that it is largely a publicity stunt to steer more traffic to The Weather Channel's website. Moreover, he points out, hurricanes are well-defined -- sustained winds of at least 74 mph -- and they have equally well-defined centers, or eyes. Winter storms are much more erratic and unpredictable.

"One area may get a blizzard, while places not too far way may experience rain or fog, or nothing at all," Myers has said. "Naming a winter storm that may deliver such varied weather will create more confusion in the public and the emergency management community."

In its defense, The Weather Channel says it does have guidelines on which storms get named. Storms will not be named more than three days before they hit, so they may be too immature when they hit here to have a name. In addition, the TWC folks also take snowfall, ice, wind speed and temperature into account.

In its first year, the channel named 26 storms from Athena to Zeus. This year the Latin class at Bozeman (Mont.) High School helped develop the current list that started with Atlas and, fittingly, would end with Zephyr, the god of the west wind. (For a complete list, go to www.weather.com and search for "winter storm names.")

Currently, the National Weather Service says it has no plans to adapt TWC's idea, although perhaps one day, other weather services and St. Louis meteorologists will follow suit. (Many rivals may not use them now to avoid giving TWC extra publicity.) But whether that happens is still blowin' in the wind.

Simple question: Are nuts on a tree considered a fruit? I'm doing a painting and would like to add a Scripture if they are. -- Jean Dietz, of Lebanon

When God created fruit trees on the third day of creation, nuts were indeed part of the plan.

In botany, a fruit is an edible structure that develops from the mature ovary of a flowering plant. Hard-shelled nuts such as walnuts, almonds and hickory nuts are simply dried fruit in which the ovary wall has become hard and the seed remains firmly attached to this wall.

So while these nuts are popularly considered a food group unto themselves (like grains), you would be on sound scientific footing by adding an appropriate Bible verse.

Today's trivia

In 1949, the first Emmy Award for TV sports coverage was given to Los Angeles TV station KTLA for covering what sport?

Answer to Wednesday's trivia: If Orrin Hatch hadn't been elected a U.S. senator from Utah in 1976, he might have become an American idol in Christian music. In 1997, for example, the 79-year-old Mormon and Janice Kapp Perry began recording albums, including "My God is Love." They wrote the song "Heal Our Land," which was performed at George W. Bush's 2005 inauguration. And, for Gladys Knight's "Many Different Roads" (1998), Hatch wrote the title track to honor Princess Diana and Mother Teresa along with "(Jesus' Love Is) Like a River."

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or rschlueter@bnd.com or call 618-239-2465.

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