As the northeast prepares for what could be the biggest blizzard in a century, a controversy is gathering over The Weather Channel's decision to name the blizzard Nemo, a moniker that, for better or worse, has stuck. It's not only that the name is jarringly incongruous, equating a possibly devastating weather event with the orange-and-white fish at the center of the beloved Pixar film Finding Nemo. It's the very fact that The Weather Channel took it upon itself to start naming winter storms, which in the world of meteorology is the equivalent of playing God.
The National Weather Service has told its forecasters not to use the name, and several media organizations have followed suit. Unlike the names of tropical storms and hurricanes, which are given the government's official seal of approval, there are no official names for winter storms because they are less well-defined, meaning one area in the storm's path could be hit by a blizzard and another by mere rainfall. "Naming a winter storm that may deliver such varied weather will create more confusion in the public and the emergency management community," said Joel Myers, president of rival AccuWeather.
But that didn't stop The Weather Channel, which in October released a slate of storm names for 2012-13 winter season that includes the Olympian (both Zeus and his Roman equivalent Jove), the Shakespearean (Iago), the fantastical (Draco, Gandolf with an "o"), the inspirational (Rocky), and the curiously benign (Nemo, Yogi, Walda).
In this case, The Weather Channel's big mistake was not realizing that most people would associate Nemo with the movie. Bryan Norcross, the brains behind the list, told The New York Times that Nemo's Latin roots (the word means "no one") were the inspiration, as well as the character Captain Nemo in Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. "Captain Nemo was a pretty tough, fierce guy," Norcross said.
While critics say the names are a marketing gimmick, officials from The Weather Channel says they help foster communication. "If we can hashtag a storm with a name, that leads to a one-stop shop to exchange information," Tom Niziol, a winter weather expert at The Weather Channel, told Bloomberg when the names were unveiled.
Either way, it appears The Weather Channel is winning. "The particular genius of The Weather Channel's winter-storm naming, no matter how much it drives other weather professionals nuts, is that if forces dissenters to come up with something equally sticky," says Andrew Beaujon at Poynter. "And it's a little late to get a '-pocalypse' or a '-geddon' ending to catch on."
Well, The Weather Channel's rivals have now been warned. The next on the list is Orko, a character from the He-Man cartoon — surely someone can do better than that?