How Social Media Drove The Weather Channel to Name Blizzards

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A flurry of activity around last year's "Snowtober"and "Snowmageddon" led to this year's "Khan," "Nemo" and "Q."

This story first appeared in the Jan. 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

The Weather Channel is going Hollywood with a winter storm-naming initiative.

Monikers such as Khan (Star Trek), Nemo (Finding Nemo) and Q (the Bond films) are meant to do for the cold season's systems what the National Hurricane Center's bland christenings -- like Sandy and Irene -- have done for tropical ones: raise awareness via identities. "Last year, we had 'Snowtober' and 'Snowmageddon,' " says Weather Channel meteorologist Bryan Norcross, part of a team that picks names.

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"On social media, they took off. We realized how important it is for storms to have hashtags." Whereas the NHC's formula for naming cyclones depends primarily on what speeds they reach, the NBCUniversal network developed an array of considerations, from potential snowfall to time and location of impact. "Three inches of snow in Atlanta is a much bigger deal than in Buffalo," says TWC's Tom Niziol.

The network insists the names are rooted in the classics (the first three were Athena, Brutus and Caesar). But the fact that Draco -- a blizzard that hit the Midwest -- is an ancient Greek legislator, not a reference to Harry Potter's Draco Malfoy, or Orko is a Basque god as well as the elflike creature from He-Man cartoons … well, only a scholar would catch that.

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TWC, up 25 percent in viewers in November and December 2012 compared with a year earlier, admits the upcoming storm Gandolf (intentionally misspelled) could be taken as a J.R.R. Tolkien shout-out, though the network claims the name comes from the 19th-century novel The Well at the World's End. That might be wise: The Tolkien estate is notoriously litigious.