Winter storms racing through the alphabet

tamrawilson Weather

Were you just a little freaked out about that winter storm on Jan. 16?

I was. I caved to the media hype and I watched weather reports all day that Saturday, fretting over the rainbow of map colors. Were we pink or blue or purple?

Pink, I know is wintry mix, the dreaded combination that shut down the grid for five days back in 1996. Some had trees crash through their roof. That’s what happens when enough ice builds up on limbs. Blue was snow, purple, some godawful combination of thick ice and snow.

As the skies grew more and more opaque that Saturday, I thought I could smell snow.  I’ve been through Carolina ice storms before. And if you’ve lived here long enough, you have too.

For us on private wells, no electricity means no water, and setting up a winter camp inside the house is no picnic.

The storm, named “Izzy” lived up to her billing, dumping as many as seven inches of snow on Catawba County, disrupting travel, and cancelling normality for a couple of days. Luckily it happened on a holiday weekend which meant fewer people were out on the roads trying to get to appointments, work, school and so on.

Grocery stores and gas stations stayed busy leading up to the storm’s arrival. But this is 2022 and to be honest, it’s hard to tell where normal life ends and storm prepping begins. If there’s no lunch meat or milk or bread or pet food, what is there to stock?

Photo by NASA: Terra/MODIS

The vocabulary is just as irksome. Breathless news people use such terms as “monster” “bomb cyclone,” “blasted,” “slammed,” “hammered” and “pummeled.”  What listener wouldn’t get edgy?

In case you’re wondering, a “bomb cyclone” is a storm with barometric pressure that dips 24 millibars in 24 hours. Such storms can whip up strong winds, pull in more moisture and drive higher snow totals. Or, if you happen to live here in the Piedmont, be prepared for sleet and freezing rain. A winter hurricane, in other words.

Thanks to The Weather Channel, the winter “bombs” are given names in alphabetical order. So far we’ve seen Atticus, Bankston, Carrie, Delphine, Elmer, Frida, Garrett and Hatcher. The one on Jan. 16 was “Izzy.”

The Weather Channel started the naming scheme 10 years ago as a way of raising public awareness of severe weather as opposed to say, The Great Blizzard of 1888, or The Storm of the Century. Short, pithy names make it easier to communicate about a complex storm.  Apparently, TWC doesn’t bother to check with the weather bigwigs at NOAA or the American Meteorological Society. Instead, senior weather people at TWC work with students of Bozeman High School in Montana.

I am not making this up.

Back in 2012, when The Weather Channel began naming storms, the list was rather haphazard, drawing from Greek mythology, Shakespeare and so on. That’s when the Bozeman Latin teacher Erika Shupe suggested to TWC that they help them out by creating a more cohesive list.

Lo and behold, TWC took her up on it, bringing a level of notoriety to the school. Shupe’s students have picked classical names from Greek and Roman culture, she explained, adding tongue-in-cheek that winter storms are as a good place for a dead language to live.

Even though our December was mild and springy, but we’ve seen this tease before. If wintertime highs are 70-plus, expect to pay.

And we are. As long as the jet stream dips down to Atlanta, we’re in the bomb flight path.

Another big storm pummeled the Carolina shoreline a few days ago. That was the work of “Jasper.” And I’ve already heard rumblings about still another icy blast headed for the Southeast. Apparently “Kenan” is on his way.