Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Naming Winter Storms? Oh, Really?

The Weather Channel, a self-proclaimed "world class" weather organization, has decided they want to name winter storms.  They explain this here.  Of course, this explanation is hogwash.  What it boils down to is this:  the Weather Channel gets their largest market share during hurricanes.  The TV marketing consultants that advise the Weather Channel about policy know that it's during hurricanes approaching the US coast when the largest number of people put their eyeballs in front of that nearly endless stream of Weather Channel advertisements.  Although ostensibly about the weather, what the Weather Channel has evolved into is primarily entertainment.  It's pretty evident to me this recent change is just a marketing ploy to increase their market share in the non-hurricane season.  Nothing more.  Their pious rationalizations about communicating important weather information to the public strike me as a pretty thin argument.   The Weather Channel is mostly about TV entertainment, not the weather.  Advertising revenue provides the fuel for that entertainment.  Named storms are sexier than boring old meteorology so they attract more viewers, who are thereby subjected to brainwashing to convince them to buy an advertiser's products and/or services.  So ... naming winter storms is seen as the path to bigger profits and more advertising revenue.  Plain and simple - easy-peasey.

Weather geeks no longer turn to Weather Channel programming, with its seemingly endless adverts and "weather magazine" programs, to obtain the weather information they crave.  The Internet serves those actually interested in the weather most every day just fine, without the Weather Channel's pointless banter by stereotypically attractive on-camera "talent", annoying technical errors, and horribly trite "explanations" that ultimately fail to provide substantive, accurate information to the public.  There was a time in the past when the Weather Channel had very few commercials and they actually had some people behind the scenes who more or less knew what they were doing and tried to help the on-camera "talent" convey an accurate and meaningful weather "briefing" - remember when their weather maps actually had isobars on them?

Those days are long gone.  Years ago, the consultants advised Weather Channel management to water down the meteorology in favor of more entertainment.  That technical jargon just doesn't capture the interest of the great unwashed masses.  Hence, much of the prime-time content is filled with "weather magazine"-type programming:  pseudo documentaries and other light "entertainment" rather than a steady focus on the ongoing weather.  It was at that point that I stopped watching.

That same source - the Internet - serves the general public as well, these days.  Most people aren't interested in the weather unless it affects them directly and significantly.  One can go many places on the Web to find weather information, including directly from the National Weather Service.  Obviously the Weather Channel hopes you'll consult their website on those relatively infrequent times when the public wants a forecast, or whatever.  I would guess that a lot of that market share is being soaked up by local weather broadcasters during the morning and evening news, which many people watch anyway.  They "know" and trust their local broadcasters, even if they sometimes make fun of them.  I've not done a study of how the public gets their weather information, but in my experience, waiting for up to 30 min for the specific information that interests you can be pretty annoying.  Why wait when you can go right to what you want, without having to put up with all the yelling advertisers and babble that doesn't matter to you?

Without knowing for sure, I'd guess the Weather Channel's market share has been declining.  Introducing this marketing ploy of naming winter storms because they want to "do their part" to communicate weather information to an information-starved public strikes me as pretty transparent.  Sorry, but I'm not buying it.  Nor am I watching it.  You're not going to convince me that naming winter storms is some sort of communications breakthrough!


Dave Sills said...

Hi Chuck, I am also unconvinced about the need for named winter storms. However, TWC as you may know has hired Tom Niziol to be their winter weather expert. He appears on the video explaining the naming initiative. Tom is a very knowledgeable and experienced winter weather forecaster who spent many years at the Buffalo NWSFO. And I believe that there was an effort by that office several years ago to name significant lake-effect storms, but they were told to cease and desist by the NWS. So, it's possible Tom is behind the idea to name winter storms, and likely has some good reasons to do so beyond just entertainment. Nevertheless, it will surely cause headaches at the NWS, and here in Canada as well since many of your named storms will go on to affect the Great White North. Will make for an interesting winter!

Dave Sills said...

Chuck, I have since learned that TWC had the idea for naming winter storms long before Tom Niziol arrived on the scene. But I trust that Tom will do his best to make this naming project meteorologically sound.

Garrett Fornea said...

It simply sounds awkward in my opinion. I just...don't feel like naming winter storms fits...but maybe I'm speaking purely based on feelings. It works for hurricanes, but doing it for winter storms just doesn't click with me.
At least Storm Riders might draw me to watch TWC again someday - I felt that it offered useful information about storm structure for viewers to walk away with, more so in one episode than in five seasons of "Storm Chasers." Not exaggerating either! They seriously need to have a flat-out "daily weather-science lecture" show on there, on a sort of Intro-to-Meteorology class level. But I greatly digress.

Steve Dieli said...

Chuck- The logic of naming storms for profit fits perfectly within the model of Comcast/NBC/Universal/Weather Company(???) and so this comes as no surprise. I'm sure these same people would name earthquakes, 'wildfires', and large tornadoes as well.=

Despite Dave Sills comment regarding the credentials of Tom Niziol, the likely sole reason for the endorsement of the idea does not lie in the "meteorlogic soundness," but rather the lack thereof.

Stephen Dieli