Hurricanes have names -- now blizzards will too

7:11 AM, Oct 2, 2012   |    comments
In this Feb. 2, 2011 photo, hundreds of cars are seen stranded on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago after a winter blizzard of historic proportions wobbled an otherwise snow-tough Chicago.
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(USA TODAY) - "Brutus bashes Buffalo" -- now there's a headline just waiting to be written.

Several decades after hurricanes first got formal names, some blizzards in the USA this winter will get their own names, too.

The Weather Channel will assign the monikers, "the first time a national organization in North America will proactively name winter storms," the network reports.

Most of the names on the list have a Greek/Roman theme -- the first three are Athena, Brutus and Caesar.

"On a national scale, the most intense winter storms acquire a name through some aspect of pop culture and now social media; for example, Snowmaggeddon and Snotober," says Weather Channel winter weather expert Tom Niziol, referring to big snowstorms that blasted parts of the Eastern USA.

Snowstorms blowing in from Lake Erie are legendary in Buffalo. Over the years, they've been named locally after snakes (Anaconda, Boa, Copperhead) and insects (Aphid, Bedbug, Caterpillar), the weather service reports.

Tropical storms and hurricanes informally received names for the first time in the late 1800s from Australian forecaster Clement Wragge, according to former National Hurricane Center director Bob Sheets. Wragge "named storms after women -- and also after politicians with whom he disagreed," Sheets writes in his book Hurricane Watch.

During World War II, tropical storms and hurricanes were informally given women's names by military meteorologists (after their girlfriends or wives) who were monitoring and forecasting tropical cyclones over the Pacific, reports meteorologist Chris Landsea of the National Hurricane Center.

The formal hurricane naming system began in the mid-1950s. Men's names were added to the lists in 1979.

To avoid confusion, none of the Weather Channel's 26 winter storm names (one for each letter of the alphabet) has been on any of the lists of names produced by the hurricane center.

The Weather Channel says naming will occur no more than three days before a winter storm's expected impact, so forecasters are confident it could have a significant effect on large populations.

Unlike with tropical storms, which have specific naming guidelines based on wind speed, the criteria for winter storms will be flexible, Niziol says. The most important weather factors will be expected snowfall and/or ice accumulations and wind speed.

Population will play a big role, too, he says. A storm that dumps a foot of snow over the Cascades in Washington state might not get a name, while a storm set to hit Atlanta at rush hour with 1-2 inches of snow might.

Niziol hopes the names will raise public awareness about the storms.

He says an average of about eight to 10 storms will probably get a name each winter.

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