We Love Weather Exclusive

How and Why We Name Winter Storms

As The Weather Channel heads into its 5th season of naming winter storms, we once again have a rather interesting set of names sure to light up hash tags in our world of social media. As with past years, the list is a compilation of various names from Greek and Roman mythology as well as Norse and even Old English.  

Since its inception during the 2012-13 winter, The Weather Channel has named 97 winter storms that have produced significant impacts across the U.S. The science of naming winter storms follows a quantitative method to define potential winter-related impacts to the US on a national scale. Those criteria are based on longstanding warning protocols developed by National Weather Service offices and adjusted to local areas.  The criteria to name includes either a certain minimum population or areal coverage impacted, namely a minimum of 2 million people or an area of at least 400,000 sq. km. (about the size of Montana) must be under or are expected to go under NWS Winter Storm Warnings.

Screen Shot 2016-10-17 at 1.53.13 PM

Somewhat to my surprise, the seasonal progression of naming winter storms has been very consistent from year to year. For those of you who may not remember last winter, I have summarized last season in an article. Finally, for those who really want to dig into every named storm we had, I have also written up a thorough review for each of the 22 named storms. Find links to the individual storm pages here. Enjoy!!

Join the Discussion


  1. For all those who are curious based on both scientific quantitative and qualitative components, here is the official equation to name winter storms.
    Winter Storm Named = area under watch and/or warning + at least 12 hours long + minimum population of at least 2,000,000 people ± area coverage of at least 400,000 sq. km.
    I am confident that both Dr. @twcerikanavarro and Dr. @tniziol give me their stamp of approval. #winterhasarrived 😀

  2. Thank you for answering my comment. I still think there should be some consideration for the naming of winter storms on the west coast, but that is just my opinion.

  3. What I said above also applies to the 400,000 sq. km. criteria, too–if the winter-storm-warning-intensity snow only occurs at elevations above, say, 5000 feet in Washington and Oregon, it might be hard for the winter-storm-warned area to be big enough.

  4. I cannot understand why it is that winter storms are not named until they are in the middle of the country? I understand that it has been said that winter storms are named when they affect a million or more people but doesn’t Seattle and Portland have more than that and the storms from the Gulf of Alaska are pretty fierce.

    1. Since the winter storm must affect a population of 2 million people or more to be named, it might be hard for the Northwest to meet the qualifications. If the 2 million population figure applies only to those who actually experience winter-storm-warning-level conditions, Seattle and Portland may be too low in elevation to count. NWS Portland and NWS Seattle may have different criteria for what prompts a winter storm warning, but over here in Maine, it has to be 6″ of snow in 12 hours, or 8″ in 24 hours. Do Portland and Seattle ever get that much, or does the snow stay at higher elevations?

  5. The formula to naming winter storms breaks down like this. We must have either three (3) of the four or all four criteria (shown below), with the first two being mandatory, to name a winter storm. It is that simple.
    1) Winter weather watches and/or warnings. The area affected by the named winter storm must be under either a winter storm watch or warning (e.g., blizzard, heavy snow, ice, winter storm) for a minimum of twelve (12) hours.
    2) Consistent precipitation. The area must have reported precipitation for a minimum of six (6) consecutive hours and no less.
    3) Population. The winter storm must affect a minimal population of two million people (roughly the populations of North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming combined).
    4) Areal coverage. The area affected by the winter storm must be at least 400,000 square kilometers (i.e., roughly the size of the state of Montana).
    I hope that I have explained it enough for all of us. Thanks! 😀

  6. As far as naming storms, I’m a 65 year old woman and have been in a number of different major storms, but i have never heard of a storm named Rosemarie or Rose. Has that name ever used at all.

  7. Also, do you follow the alphabets? Example, the first one is name starting with letter “A?” I’d thought that each names had a different size of a storm criteria. For example: The name of a storm named Alan: it’s because Alan is for a storm sized at about 250km. So on. Is it so? Or, is it that you’d just go through the alphabetical order? First one, Alan, second one, Berne, and the third storm, Conner perhaps?
    I think that it’s pretty “cool” anyway that the storms are named, because it is associated with the destruction it’s left in its pathways. People identify with it immediately what storm when and where, how much, and what…
    Immediately associated with the certainty, such as “The hurricane Katrina” – who can forget the destruction it’s left behind, where, when, how much, so on. Whoever is credited in the naming storms was Brilliant! I’d like to know that story. In fact, I am going to look it up right now!
    😊 Thank you all at the “weloveweather.tv”

  8. I understand the ‘how’ part of the naming, and your history of such now. I still am a bit confused regarding the ‘Why’ you name winter storms though. Is this just an awareness thing to draw attention to your media?

Comments are closed.