Feb 7 2013 2:15pm

It’s No Coincidence That Your Favorite Characters Are Now Winter Storms

It's No Coincidence That Your Favorite Sci-Fi/Fantasy Characters Are Now Winter Storms

When the Weather Channel started naming winter storms this past November, no one really noticed. Then, a few weeks after the debut of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Winter Storm Gandolf came along. And Winter Storm Khan.

This weekend, the northeast is expecting to get hit by Winter Storm Nemo. And it isn’t out of the question that Winter Storm Q might send some muck our way shortly after that. Are our favorite characters from science fiction/fantasy actually assaulting us with wind, sleet, and snow? Or are we seeing a pattern that isn’t there?

The geeky names are no coincidence. And we have Bryan Norcross, the Weather Channel’s Senior Executive Director of Weather Content and Senior Hurricane Specialist, to thank.

Robin Amer at WBEZ 91.5 in Chicago wondered the same thing about the storm names and tracked down Norcross at his home in sunny Florida.

“Meteorologists tend to be – what would you call it – Star Trek, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings enthusiasts,” Norcross said. “We’re more inclined towards sci-fi than the general population.” So much so that in addition to their choice of Khan, Norcross and company considered naming a storm after Lt. Uhura. “We thought about a bunch of Star Trek names,” he said. “But we didn’t want words that were hard to say or funny to read. It was a trial-and-error process.”

My new favorite person Norcross also told WBEZ that this year’s J storm was nearly named “Jor-El” and that his team had considered a lot of superhero and Star Trek-related names before reigning themselves in and more seriously refining their naming convention.

One issue that Norcross’ team ran into was avoiding trademarked names and active copyright material. (So... no Winter Storm Batman but maybe Winter Storm Whale Probe From Star Trek IV?) Since the Weather Channel is a for-profit commercial entity and not a government-created organization like the National Weather Service, there was an additional need to avoid infringement.

Norcross and the Weather Channel came up with a clever compromise, lifting geeky names and characters that were themselves references to historical or fictional figures. “Gandalf” is the well-known wizard character from Tolkien’s works, but “Gandolf” is a character from William Morris’ 1896 novel A Well at the World’s End, and the inspiration for Tolkien’s Gandalf.

The origin for all of the 2012-2013 winter storm season names is listed on the Weather Channel’s site and includes some amusing dodges. For example, “Q” does not, apparently, reference the omnipotent continuum from Star Trek but rather the Broadway express subway line in New York City. (It does not escape one’s notice that Patrick Stewart now lives in Brooklyn and could theoretically utter this line in real life, should he ever miss his train. Imagining this happening is the joy that propels my days.)

Catch the full interview with Bryan Norcross over at WBEZ and glory in the fact that his love of sci-fi and geeky things is so unabashed. Read the reasons why the Weather Channel is naming winter storms now, as well. (Short version: They’re serious and frequent and naming them allows us a convenient widespread shorthand.)

And finally, a challenge to you. Put together a winter storm season consisting only of Star Trek vessel names. E must, of course, be Enterprise, but I leave the rest up to you!

Chris Lough is the production manager of and also suggests that V be Voyager, Mr. Paris.

1. WeatherNerd
I'm all for using geeky names. I am, however, not for naming winter storms. The Weather Channel has way overstepped its bounds by trying to name winter storms. Most people associate named storms with hurricanes, and for good reason. Hurricanes are much more dangerous and present a much more real threat than most winter storms. Hurricanes are named by an international committe that includes the National Weather Service - the single governmental organization in charge of managing the massive systems that are required to predict weather in the United States - as well as similar organizations from the various countries affected by hurricanes. The only people who have any input in the names for the Weather Channel are the Weather Channel, a single for-profit entity that specializes in repackaging government weather information for the general public, among many other competing organizations. Hurricanes also have a well-defined and accepted criteria, so that it is very clear what is a hurricane and what is not. With these winter storms it is only the Weather Channel that decides what merits a name and what does not because there is no scientifically established criteria or oversight. Ultimately, this was a pure marketing decision and power ploy by the weather channel that does not serve the public. The National Weather Service has even explicity stated that they will not use these names, and for good reason. These names contribute to fear-mongering, as well as lessening the impact that hurricane warnings should have. It is a bad idea and I hope this is the last year the Weather Channel continues naming winter storms, even if the names themselves are pretty cool.
Adrian J.
3. LightningStorm
Nice, but I agree with #1 Winter Storms don't need names. There does needs to be a storm (be it hurricane or otherwise) called "Ororo", but maybe that doesn't pass the easy-to-say test and I have no idea if it's copyrighted or not. But surely Winter Storm Munroe would be generic enough while still referencing Storm herself.

As for Star Trek Vessel names... do the novels count? (Skipped letters I couldn't think of ones for)
Excelsior (screw the Enterprise! :p )
Michael Langer
2. Baba_Yaga
I don't think Roose Bolton will find this funny when W rolls around.
Dave West
4. Jhirrad

I don't think there have been and X named starships in Star Fleet.
Patrick Nielsen Hayden
5. pnh
The name "Gandalf" (or "Gandolf") goes back far earlier than William Morris. It's the name of a dwarf in various of the Norse eddas -- Voluspa, the Prose Edda, and so forth. Which we have from 13th-century sources, but which probably go back further than that. As both Tolkien and Morris were well aware.
Ian Monroe
6. ian.monroe
Glad to see the Weather Channel being responsible and giving the storms fantastical names. I think NOAA or whoever gives the hurricanes names ends up being pretty cruel to eg the Katrinas of the world.
7. wingracer
I can't think of any X Starfleet ships but there should definitely be a Xenophon.
9. scifisiren
I'm just going to assume that "Helen" "Magnus" is a shout-out to all Sanctuary/Amanda Tapping fans. Awesome.
10. Basel Gill
Why automatically assume that Q would refer to the Q Continuum? How do you know this storm won't try to install machine guns, smoke screens, and a passenger ejector seat in everyone's cars? Somewhere up there, Desmond Llewelyn is insulted.

And #9: obviously, Magnus is a nod to Magneto.
11. ColoradoNative79
I am going to have to absolutely agree with the naming of winter storms! Personally, I think it's a terrific idea!
Why not? Although the NWS, and its’ associated committees will be the deciding authority in the naming of them, I believe it is great opportunity for the NWS to involve the public in the naming of these storms.
Sure, "hurricanes are much more dangerous and present a much more real threat than most winter storms," (Comm#1) but how much more of the country is impacted by each winter storm? The public is acutely aware of the horrific impact that tropical storms such as Hurricane Sandy, or more recently, Katrina, have on the country as a whole. However, these winter storms that can absolutely paralyze a city, haven’t had a true name.
A 33-year Denver-native I can recall numerous winter storms that have impacted the city, the region, and the nation, in tremendous ways. Why allude to the "Blizzard of '82" as the "Blizzard of '82?" Well, from a historical perspective, it is terrific, but not moving forward.
Winter Storm "Rocky" will, in my mind, be the first real winter storm to hit the Denver area this season. Three years from now, if the new naming system wasn't started, WS Rocky wouldn't be forgotten, but would be referred to as, "that big storm a few years ago where it snowed a ton and we all had to stay at DIA overnight," for example.
Instead, this winter storm, which impacted millions of people across the country, will be historically and personally be known as Winter Storm 'Rocky,' a tough Italian guy who grew up in Philly and was in Denver for a fight.
The naming of these winter storms shouldn’t be constricted to the likes of those committees, and I highly doubt that will be the case. Let’s make it fun for our kiddos, let’s make it fun for ourselves. Winter Storm ‘Columbus,’ Winter Storm ‘Reagan,’ ‘Jordan,’ ‘PFManning)?’ You get my drift

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