“Frankenstorm”: or how a passing reference can become a popular sensation

It’s not often that career civil service employees get to spark a national craze. Certainly that’s not what forecaster James Cisco of NOAA’s Hydrometeorological Prediction Center (HPC) had in mind when he was writing the HPC’s preliminary extended forecast discussion on Thursday morning. His discussion included the following:

…AND ONCE THE COMBINED GYRE MATERIALIZES, IT SHOULD SETTLE BACK TOWARD THE INTERIOR NORTHEAST THROUGH HALLOWEEN, INVITING PERHAPS A GHOULISH NICKNAME FOR THE CYCLONE ALONG THE LINES OF “FRANKENSTORM”, AN ALLUSION TO MARY SHELLEY’S GOTHIC CREATURE OF SYNTHESIZED ELEMENTS.

It was, in my view, a harmless way of pointing out the unusual hybrid nature of what is setting up to be a sequel to the “Perfect Storm“. But the media saw the discussion and immediately latched on to the name (seemingly forgetting that it already had a name: Hurricane Sandy). Before long, the name “Frankenstorm” was setting the social media world alight, too.

Not everyone was a fan of this label, though. The Weather Channel’s Eric Fisher complained about it, and apparently so did many others. In a media briefing earlier today, NOAA officials said that “Frankenstorm” would not be used in any further NWS products. Since only the one discussion ever used that term, NOAA is effectively saying “we’re going to stop doing what we already weren’t doing”, but I get the point. They don’t want to create confusion by having two names for the storm.

The Weather Channel, after recently announcing they’d be naming winter storms, has wisely decided to stick with “Sandy” for this storm, even though some of the impacts will be decidedly wintery. Still, the name, much like the monster, won’t die. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad. There’s anecdotal evidence either way. On the one hand, the unusual name might cause people to pay more attention. On the other hand, calling by a non-hurricane name might give a false sense of diminished impact. Only a post-event analysis will tell.

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  1. Pingback: New discussions added to the Hall of Fame « Blog Fiasco

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