The Weather Channel has taken to naming winter storms. They put up a page on why they’re naming these storms, a page that reads like some TSA checklist or corporate communications handbook they give you on your first day at a new job and you only ever skim. I bet the scribes at the Weather Channel have already written the punny headlines for every name on this list too (though, I don’t know if the alternative is more preferable). I suppose this is what you get when you’re a 24-hour cable channel that’s been around for thirty years covering something that’s been around forever, competing for attention with a little widget that shows up when I slide my finger from the top of my phone to the bottom of my phone.
What makes this wreak of sensationalism is how ominous sounding the names are. But it’s an oddly appropriate sensationalism, because the worst storms tend to have the least ominous names. Take Andrew for example. Sounds like a swell guy. Growing up his friends all called him Andy but lately he’s been introducing himself as Andrew because it sounds more mature, which makes it all the more endearing. Except he’ll piss all over your furniture and rip the roof off your house and fling it across the palmtops like a frisbee, and he’ll do it wearing the biggest shit-eating grin on his face. You have to watch out for guys like Andrew.
Look at the deadliest Atlantic hurricanes on record. The two deadliest Atlantic hurricanes on record (once the National Weather Service started naming hurricanes in the 50s) have been Mitch and Fifi. A soccer dad and someone’s poodle on a pink leash. One of the few exceptions might be Katrina, who sounded like she was going to be a total bitch and actually turned out to be a total bitch. But Fifi? Fifi?! Fifi. Look at the Weather Service’s list of storm names and you’ll see an unmotley crue of similarly mild-manned characters.
I think we have some basic human need to dress up something innocuous with something flashy, temper something devastating with something tame. We crave slight dissonance, like erotica with the cover of a crime thriller. The catch is once we start down that path, the dissonance dissolves. We see more erotica in understated covers and roll our eyes and go oh great not another one of those. We figure out quickly that Nor’easter Khan or Winter Storm Xerxes are probably not worth our attention and stop buying into them. We are the town’s villagers and The Weather Channel is crying wolf.
I’ll admit that there’s a certain entertainment value in the names, and I do look forward to when this inevitably seeps into other meteorological phenomena. Because come on, water cooler small talk would be that much better if we had Heat Wave Diomedes or Pollen Alert Voldemort to talk about. I’ll laugh, you’ll laugh, we’ll talk about how silly it all is and the suits at The Weather Channel will nod their heads and the reports from their focus groups will tell them gosh, it’s really working. And people will get promoted and we’ll move on with our day as usual, until a real one rolls around and we wait in line at the Trader Joe’s and buy up all the bread and three-dollar wine and charge all our phones and laptops and iPads as the skies darken and the city shuts down, bracing for the wrath of Hurricane Justin.