10.26.12

Question: What Is A Frankenstorm?

Posted in General, Commentary, GWC News, Tracking the Tropics at 4:03 pm by gmachos

Government Agencies And Media Give Hybrid Sandy A Halloween Feel

People love to give names to storms. You’ve heard it before. Back in 1993, it was Superstorm 1993, or the Storm of the Century. Same thing was said of Hurricane Floyd in 1999. The winter storms of 2010 were given the name Snowmageddon by President Obama, and then this time last year, our little October Snowstorm was given the moniker of Snowtober. Now, we have Hurricane Sandy, which is now a minimal hurricane, and soon to be less of a tropical entity, and more of a hybrid entity.

On Thursday night and early Friday morning, I was watching the news on several different media outlets, both local and national, and heard the term Frankenstorm used to describe Sandy. Then, on Friday morning, I take a look at the front page of the newspaper, and I see the title of “Rise of Frankenstorm.” Why not call it Young Frankenstorm? I say that facetiously, but there is some truth to it because the storm is still evolving. Obviously some people feel that by calling Sandy a Frankenstorm, it makes the storm sound more sinister and dire, which could help getting the word out to people about it. In addition, Halloween is around the corner so it gives weather, which is not as popular or sexy a topic to most people as say sports or entertainment can be, more appeal to the masses.

There have been other terms given to Sandy over the past 24 hours as well such as The Perfect Storm after the 1991 storm that had Hurricane Grace as a component, and was a subject of a book by Sebastian Junger, which eventually became a movie starring George Clooney. There is also the term hybrid that I’ve been using since it has a little of both tropical and mid-latitude cyclone characteristics. Snow hurricane, or snowicane is another term although, I would find that a bit unlikely here in Jersey since temperatures aren’t going to be cold enough to produce snow. It could produce the white stuff in more mountains areas along the Appalachians such as West Virginia, Virgina, and Central Pennsylvania, where you have higher elevation.

And with a storm like Sandy, a potentially unprecedented weather event bearing down on the largest and most densely populated region of the country, using the moniker of Frankenstorm is an attempt to capture people’s attention. Using names for hurricanes and tropical storms have become commonplace now. These storms come in stages so it is appropriate to use names to describe them. It also makes it easier for people to identify with and remember, especially in the Caribbean and Central America, where English is a second language.

There has been some backlash to the use of the term, Frankenstorm to describe Sandy though. CNN announced on Friday that it will not be using the term Frankenstorm in its broadcasts. One of the lead meteorologists, Chad Myers indicated that it “trivializes” the storm, which is already responsible for 20 deaths in Cuba, Jamaica, and the Bahamas. Myers and CNN’s reasoning for this policy is a valid one because it may give people the idea that the storm is a joke, or shouldn’t be taken seriously. With the potential damage and destruction from this storm, a possibly difficult aftermath to follow in a part of the country that has been quite lucky during this active cycle of tropical storms and hurricanes, and a population that tends to be more cynical about such storms in this part of the world, the last thing you want to do is trivialize it.

Continuing on the idea of naming storms, the Weather Channel is taking things a step further by using names to describe significant winter storms, which has caused some controversy in recent days. TWC recently announced that it is going to begin giving names to winter storms this coming season. Forecasters and specialists there believe this is a good way to get the word out to the public on the severity of a snowstorm. When I was younger, there was a weatherman at FOX5 in New York named Hurricane Schwartz that used to give nor’easters and winter storms names. One problem meteorologists have with this though is that Nor’easters and blizzards don’t form in stages like tropical entities do. They are also hard to predict in the sense that a winter storm might not always bring snow. Sometimes, temperatures will be warm enough for the precipitation to come down as rain instead.

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