For the past three years, The Weather Channel has adopted a widely criticized advertising strategy of giving names to winter storms. They’re not doing it to make you safer, or even to make it simpler to take about storms. What they want to do is get you talking about these storms and, more importantly, clicking on links to their web pages. Why? Because no respectable meteorological organization uses, or even acknowledges, those names. So, when you hear that a winter storm called Lovemuffin is “bearing down on the east coast,” for example, then google “Lovemuffin” you’re going to end up at a Weather Channel site–or a cooperating site that is financially connected to the Weather Channel. Heck, they register these names as proprietary. In essence, they’ve found a way to “own” the news.
Even worse, in order to drive interest in their sites, the Weather Channel adopts a hyperbolic reporting posture. Every storm becomes the potential storm to end all storms, every squall threatens to become a blizzard, every blizzard the fresh dawn of a new ice age. Accompanying stories urge us to take measures that may increase our chances of survival–make sure your shovel is solid, buy flashlight batteries and candles, extra toilet paper, rent some movies, load up the shopping cart with Diet Coke and Oreo cookies.
Fortunately, they have not gone unopposed. A Facebook page, called STOP The Weather Channel From Naming Winter Storms–It’s Stupid emerged to challenge this scourge, and plenty of news articles, commentary, and essays have likewise pointed out the ridiculous and cynical nature of the Weather Channel’s ploy. Accuweather has spoken against the naming storms, and the National Weather Service has refused to acknowledge the storm names.
In the mean time, it is difficult to know, without carefully inspecting every weather report for its sourcing, just how we should react. Is there really a horrifying, dangerous storm on the way, or is a media outlet just trying to keep their ratings up? And then, when that turns out to be the case, when do we pay the price after so much crying wolf, when will we become so immune to the hysteria that we fail to heed the warning–and how many will pay the price?
I put a million links up there–a million, count ’em–as references, but this essay is particularly interesting and enlightening.