Why FOX 11 names winter storms

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Bucky? Kayla?

With the arrival of Winter Storm Bucky, we are getting questions about why WLUK names storms, and the possible confusion with what The Weather Channel does. Fox 11 Assignment Manager Brian Kerhin explains our naming tradition.

For more than 20 years, WLUK has named winter storms. It is something started by former meteorologist John Chandik - and something we continue to today.

We have a list of guidelines to help with the internal discussion of "Should we name this storm?" Those include: Will it include 5" or more of snow across most of the viewing area? Will it have ice or sleet of more than a quarter inch? Will it have a significant impact on daily life for many of our viewers? A storm that has the brunt of the impact during morning drive and that could close schools is more likely to be named than one that doesn't, for example.

As you may have guessed, the guidelines are not hard-and-fast rules, but are a starting point for discussion. Sometimes, we will name a storm in advance, but then Mother Nature does something unexpected - In which case, we would expect the meteorologists to explain what happened that was different from their forecast! Other times, we wait to see what actually happens.

We do so because naming the storm signifies it is an event (or expected event) of significance; it's more than a 2" dusting. Also, the personification gives us an easy way to refer to the storm in our coverage. Using alphabetical order helps keep track of how many major storms happen in a season. We find that many viewers do like it and find it fun. (Yes, we know there are those who don't like it. And that's OK). And, it makes our coverage different than others.

Originally, we named the storms for local towns. But it didn't make sense to have Winter Storm Florence if most of the snow was in Appleton & Oshkosh areas, so we moved away from that practice to person names.

In the winter of 1999-2000, we used some familiar names from just down the street from FOX 11. Antonio, Brett, and Dorsey were among the names.

At the insistence of our general manager, Jay Zollar - who will tell you he always sat in the back of the classroom because he was always last on the roster - we did start at the other end of the alphabet in 2000-01. Winter Storm Zittau, Yooper and Weyauwega were among the names we used. However, since it's an easy thing to remember that Winter Storm Ernest, for example, is the fifth storm, we have stuck with starting at the beginning of the alphabet ever since.

We alternate the years & sexes. We went from Alan to Alice to Alex to Ashley in the last four years, for example.

The list is developed internally by FOX 11 meteorologists and other staff.

But what about Kayla?

A few years ago, The Weather Channel cable station also started naming storms - a mere two decades after we began doing so. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right? We don't mind, although it can lead to some confusion. We name storms that only have an impact in Northeast Wisconsin, while The Weather Channel takes a national view. That's evidenced by the fact they are on their 11th storm of the season, while we are on our second. There is no right or wrong here. There is no nationally or internationally accepted naming convention, as there is with hurricanes. It's just a tool used by different media outlets in similar ways.

For more from Patrick Powell and Pete Petoniak on why we name the storms - and this year's full list, click here.

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