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Home Opinion Oden: Winter storms now have names with no meaning

Oden: Winter storms now have names with no meaning

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If a winter storm is bad enough to have a name, what’s the rationale of nailing it with a moniker that in Latin means “Peace?”

I take exception to the recent trend of naming major winter storms, whether the events bring sub-zero temperatures, wind, snow, ice or all four seasonal curses. The latest, Winter Storm Pax, displayed not the least trace of gentleness and civility as it pasted the Southeast U.S. with inches of ice and snow accumulation.

The winter storm that preceded Pax was “Leon.” In Greek and derivative languages, Leon means “lion.” This is s fitting name for a powerful weather event. Last December, however, Winter Storm Cleon came roaring out of the Great Plans to hit the Midwest and Northeast. Cleon means “praise and acclaim” in Greek. Somehow I find it hard to associate such a positive name with a storm that left hundreds of thousands without power and drove temperatures in some regions down to 30 degrees below zero.

What is the rationale driving this meteorological christening of storms? Does some weatherperson watch baby storms as they toddle along in the upper atmosphere and decide, “This one definitely looks like Leon and Cleon when they were the same age, so I hereby officially name this one Neon!”

Of course, the dictionary tells us that Neon also is derived from the Greek, meaning “new.” How fitting. It could be a continuation of the Leon and Cleon family of winter storms, all brothers with future names like Rayon, Crayon, Futon and Moron.

The National Weather Service does not name winter storms. This systematic tagging started with the Weather Channel. There was no national need, certainly not any impending dire consequence associated with continuing to operate as we had the past 300 years by referring to blizzards and ice storms as “The Great Nor’easter of 1991” or the “Freeze-out in Fargo.”

“In unilaterally deciding to name winter storms, The Weather Channel has confused media spin with science and public safety,” accused Joel Myers, founder and president of a competing weather forecasting source: AccuWeather.

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If you think I jest about how this storm-naming process has run off the tracks, consider that now even individual TV stations name localized weather events. In Connecticut this February, a TV station dubbed a winter storm “Easton,” after a nearby town. Apparently in an attempt to one-up The Weather Channel, WFSB in Hartford also bragged that it has been naming winter storms for local towns and people since 1971.

I speculate about the controversy and public furor that will ensue when The Weather Channel’s named winter storm conflicts with a local-yokel storm carrying a different media hash tag.

The Weather Channel: “Winter Storm Deon continues to lash New England with high winds and heavy snow…” vs. WFSB Eyewitness News: “Mid-state region reels from effects of Winter Storm Bozrah…”

Bozrah, Conn., is a town of 2,627 residents and home to the famed Bozrah Farmers Market, voted in 2013 as the No. 1 farmers market in Connecticut and No. 9 in the nation. I think a town with the state’s best farmers market should be eligible for having a storm named in its honor.

Not so much the Deons of the world unless they play in the NFL.

What about naming storms after the Seven Dwarfs? Dopey and Grumpy come to mind.

Finally, I see all sorts of possibilities for naming storms after Tennessee map points: Winter Storm Skull Bone holds promise, as does Storm Bugscuffle or winter storms Sweet Lips, Crackers Neck, Hot Rock, Nankipoo, Owl Hoot and Polecat. Nor can we ignore the psychological impact of a winter storm named “Finger,” after the West Tennessee community.

When Winter Storm Finger flips you… Well, I will conclude on this note.

■ Steve Oden is an award-winning columnist and former newspaper editor in Tennessee and Alabama.

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Steve Oden
Steve Oden is an award-winning columnist and former newspaper editor in Tennessee and Alabama. His column, "Appalachian Notebook," appears in the Independent Herald bi-weekly.
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