AUSTIN (KXAN) — Still fresh in many Central Texans’ memories is the brutal winter storms of last February. Over the course of a week, Central Texas was slammed by five separate systems that brought bitter cold, ice and over half a foot of snow.
In the aftermath, the name “Winter Storm Uri” began making rounds in the media. But the name wasn’t used by the National Weather Service — so what gives?
As we all know, hurricanes in the Atlantic basin receive names once they become tropical storms. But this was not always the case. Up until the 1950s, tropical cyclones were unnamed and tracked by the year they formed and the order in which they occurred.
NOAA said “over time, it was learned that the use of short, easily remembered names in written as well as spoken communications is quicker and reduces confusion when two or more tropical storms occur at the same time.” In 1953, the United States began using female names for storms and, by 1978, both male and female names were used to identify Northern Pacific storms. This was then adopted in 1979 for storms in the Atlantic basin.
Naming winter storms, however, is done solely by the Weather Channel or TWC, Weather Underground (a TWC subsidiary), and NBC Universal (which owns TWC), according to ThoughtCo., an information site. The thought process behind TWC naming winter storms is similar as to why we now name hurricanes.
However, unlike the clear criteria set out for naming a tropical system by the National Hurricane Center, the criteria set forth by TWC is a little more convoluted.
According to The Weather Channel, winter storms are named based on either meeting or the expectation to meet at least one of the following criteria: NWS winter storm, blizzard or ice storm warnings covering at least a population of 2 million, and/or NWS winter storm, blizzard or ice storm warnings covering at least an area of 400,000 square kilometers, or slightly larger than the state of Montana.
NWS spokesperson Susan Buchanan stated, “The National Weather Service does not name winter storms, because a winter storm’s impact can vary from one location to another, and storms can weaken and redevelop, making it difficult to define where one ends and another begins.” Essentially, a winter storm can have a lot more different weather associated with it than just wintry weather. Oftentimes, severe weather and flash flooding can precede a winter storm, which can be misleading.
KXAN, while the NBC affiliate in Austin, is owned by media conglomerate Nexstar Media Group. At KXAN, the First Warning Weather team follows in the footsteps of the National Weather Service, which does not name winter storms. But Nexstar is not the only media outlet not to follow The Weather Channel.
Since the NWS does not name storms, the Associated Press does not either. And since the AP does not name them, all of its subsidiaries do not either, making The Weather Channel and its subsidiaries the only outlets to do so.
Next time you hear a winter storm so-and-so, check with the KXAN First Warning Weather team and ensure severe weather and/or other non-related wintry weather is associated with it.