Featured letter: Winter storm Fred?

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To the Editor:

Nemo? What’s in a name?

The Weather Channel, Inc. has decided to name winter storms. The National Weather Service, however, names only tropical storms and hurricanes. They do not name winter storms because of their erratic behavior as a weather system. In other words, the NWS has criteria that is understood and adhered to by most meteorologists around the world.

What is the Weather Channel’s criteria? Anything that they feel like, whenever they want to. The Weather Channel decided that naming storms will “heighten awareness” of the storm. Make no mistake, The Weather Channel is a TV show and they depend on ratings. They get more viewers (and advertising revenue) when there is more interest in a significant weather event. And if the weather is not so significant, they will get your attention by “naming” the pending storm. (Snow in February is nothing to freak out about.)

The Weather Channel is owned by NBC Universal (now Comcast Cable), the Blackstone Group and Bain Capital. (Yes, Mitt Romney’s old Bain Capital.) Their sole purpose is profit. Unlike the National Weather Service, they answer to their shareholders, not the public. I wonder if Mitt would have privatized the National Weather Service? Bain Capital could make a few bucks if the Weather Channel took over.

If we cannot trust the Weather Channel to comply with the accepted criteria and standards of the NWS and NOAA, then why should we trust their forecast? Hyping the weather is what they do. The danger in naming every other storm is that they will unnecessarily be “crying wolf.” We will become complacent and not be ready when a truly dangerous storm actually bears down on us.

The other problem is that most homeowner insurance policies have an additional deductible for damage from a “named” storm.

The Weather Channel storm “names” are not considered by the insurance companies. Not yet. But, if we all buy into naming every storm, then the insurers will certainly agree and we will pay more for every claim. FEMA will also not officially recognize the Weather Channel storm names.

As a federal agency, the National Weather Service mission is “(The) protection of life and property and the enhancement of the national economy. NWS data and products form a national information database and infrastructure which an be used by other governmental agencies, the private sector, the public, and the global community.” The NWS gives us unbiased weather forecasting and has saved innumerable lives over many decades.

The Weather Channel’s mission is to make money. Most of the media outlets have refused to mention “Nemo.” “Winter Storm Nemo” is copyrighted by the Weather Channel. But our own town website and this newspaper has referred to the blizzard as a “Nemo.”

The town government and local press should not contribute to the unofficial, inaccurate and confusing weather reporting by a TV program. The National Weather Service prediction and forecast office in Upton has served Shelter Island very well. We should stick with the NWS, not some TV show pulling a PR stunt.

The next Weather Channel storm “Orko” was on the heels of “Nemo.” But TWC hype petered out as “Orko” never really materialized. They did squeeze a few days of higher ratings out of it though.

Sam Cooke sang “The rain is Tess, the fire’s Joe and they call the wind Mariah.” You are free to call the next storm “Fred” if you like. But collectively, officially and for the record, let’s call a blizzard a “blizzard.” Just like the National Weather Service does.

VINNIE NOVAK
Shelter Island

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