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 Tor.com and also suggests that V be Voyager, Mr. Paris.