Let’s chat: Do winter storms really have names?

The unofficial naming system has gained some popularity, but experts caution against the naming of winter storms

A list of names for the 2022-2023 winter season, created by The Weather Channel (Copyright KSAT 2022 - All rights reserved)

I’m sure everyone here remembers the devastating winter storm of February 2021. The cold and snow led to the collapse of the Texas power grid, leaving many of us without power and water for days.

During that time, I remember hearing a certain phrase: Winter Storm Uri. It was the first time that I, as a meteorologist, had heard so many Texans using a name for a winter storm. It sounded so strange to me, as only tropical systems receive names.

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So what’s the deal? Do winter storms really have names? And where do those names come from? The answer may interest you.

Do winter storms really have names?

The short answer is no, they don’t. Not officially.

The National Weather Service does not recognize names for winter storms. And, according to Maureen O’Leary, the Deputy Director of Public Affairs for the National Weather Service, the NWS has “no plans to consider it.”

So... where do winter storm “names” come from?

The Weather Channel, a privately owned company, made the decision to start naming winter storms in 2012. Since then, some of these names have trickled into the widespread media when a winter storm is particularly devastating, such as “Winter Storm Uri.”

Why does the National Weather Service not recognize winter storm names?

The simple answer is that winter storms impact people in very different ways, depending on where you live. According to O’Leary, “Winter storms are diverse with conditions that evolve throughout the storm’s life. That is why our (NWS) forecasts, watches and warnings focus on specific impacts such as wind conditions, snowfall, ice, temperature, visibility, and other impacts. Winter storm conditions can vary widely and over a very large area, from community to community. It’s critical that people understand how a storm will impact them, in their area or where they are going.”

Another reason why the National Weather Service does not recognize the winter storm naming system of The Weather Channel is that this list is created by a single, privately owned company, rather than a sanctioned organization.

In contrast, the National Weather Service does recognize the naming of tropical systems.

This is because, as O’Leary states, “...the names are from a list established by an international committee of the U.N. World Meteorological Organization. And, this naming is contingent upon well-defined and universal criteria (eg: an organized area of low pressure with top winds of at least 39 mph). Names are given to these systems because they are discrete and naming provides a common link as these storms traverse international boundaries and multiple languages, and to distinguish between multiple storms that may threaten a region concurrently. Here is more information and the history of naming tropical storms.

Will KSAT-12 meteorologists use winter storm names?

No, we won’t. We’ll continue to adhere to the National Weather Service’s stance against naming winter storms, focusing on the potential impacts of these storms rather than their “names.”

About the Author

Sarah Spivey is a San Antonio native who grew up watching KSAT. She has been a proud member of the KSAT Weather Authority Team since 2017. Sarah is a Clark High School and Texas A&M University graduate. She previously worked at KTEN News. When Sarah is not busy forecasting, she enjoys hanging out with her husband and cat, and playing music.

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