When a blizzard pummeled the East Coast in early February, the Weather Channel took an unconventional approach to raising awareness by naming the winter storm “Nemo.” Typically, only hurricanes and tropical storms receive names, but the Weather Channel ignored the National Weather Service’s convention of not naming winter storms. The result was widespread usage of “Nemo” by media outlets, public officials, and citizens to refer to the storm, making the name the de-facto, official-unofficial blizzard name. And nowhere was this clearer than on Twitter, with #Nemo tweets filling newsfeeds to provide information, updates, and complaints about shoveling and plowing drives.

Raising awareness through social media

Even though the National Weather Service continues to balk at naming winter storms, the Weather Channel’s unilateral action actually provided a novel approach to protecting people during unsafe conditions. By naming the storm “Nemo,” the Weather Channel not only gave itself certain publicity, but it importantly raised awareness of the storm itself. By attaching a name to a blizzard, people on Twitter were able to Tweet localized information that allowed current conditions and updates to be more easily disseminated than simply using the term “blizzard.”

The spread of blizzard names on Twitter

So, does this naming convention represent a new tradition when a winter storm hits? Well, the idea seems to be sticking elsewhere in the country. When a snow storm was poised to hit Kansas City in late February, a competition to name the storm started on Facebook. Looking for another hashtag-worthy name, the comical winner was “Snowtorious B.I.G.,” with “Blizzard of Oz” finishing second in the voting. Although some may view this naming as a humorous distraction, fact that naming blizzards on Twitter seems to have caught the public’s imagination. And, if this hashtag campaign also raises awareness and aids in dissemination in information, then everyone is the better for it, whether the name is “Nemo” or the “Snowtorious B.I.G.”