Greek Gods, Roman Emperors, and Snow

The Weather Channel, in their infinite wisdom – or is it a push to boost ratings? – has taken to naming winter storms this year. Apparently they decided if it’s good enough for hurricanes, then by golly, it’s good enough for snowstorms, too!

I have ridiculed the names given to hurricanes in the past, arguing that they rarely conveyed the powerful strength associated with these cyclones. Sandy may have been a monster of a storm, but she’ll always be the fair-cheeked Australian lass with a voice like honey from Grease to me. After seeing the list of names for the 2012-13 crop of winter storms, I thought, finally – these guys got it right! For the most part, anyway.

It’s a dumb idea to begin with, and the National Weather Service’s official stance is “we refuse to assign names to winter storms.” They have, in fact, forbidden their forecasters from referring to the storms by name. Secondly, what are the official qualifications for becoming a named storm? Who decides this? Does the president of The Weather Channel make the call? That’s an awful lot of power for one man to wield. Why should he get to say that a blizzard in the Midwest is bad enough to receive a name, but the windstorm on the Oregon coast will simply be referred to as “the windstorm on the Oregon coast”? There are going to be bruised feelings, people crying foul, claiming the system is rigged to work against them. That’s the last thing we need after the election! But I get it…I do. If my car is damaged by hail, I’ll find a lot more satisfaction in shouting, “Damn you, Magnus! Damn you to hell!” than in cursing, “You miserable but generic frozen precipitation!”

If Fargo gets a named storm (and let’s face it – they’ll probably get two or three this winter, the lucky bastards), then I want one too, dammit. And how about those names?

The Northeast has already dealt with Athena. I didn’t mind that one too much. It reminded me of a song by The Who. Which one? “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”

OK, I kid. It reminded me of “Athena.”

By and large, the names make sense. There are several mythological gods of sky and thunder (Jove, Orko, Ukko and Zeus). I see what the TWC guys were doing there. Clever, fellas. But then there’s Freyr, a Norse pagan god associated with “sunshine and fair weather.” They sort of blew it with that one, unless their point was irony.

Brutus and Caesar. The weather guys have an odd fascination with the Roman Empire, as evidenced by these names. Caesar was a dictator, Brutus was his onetime friend and eventual assassin. I guess since they were both vengeful and murderous, these are badass storm names. Not so badass? Virgil. Sounds like a nebbish Woody Allen character. Virgil was a popular poet in ancient Rome. They say the pen is mightier than the sword, but I’d fear Caesar’s blade much more than Virgil’s iambic pentameter.

How they came up with these names is Greek to me. And also, to the guys at TWC, who turned to ancient Greece for inspiration more than once. Euclid was a Greek mathematician known as “the father of Geometry,” and Plato was a famous Greek philosopher. Both had more brains than brawn so they don’t particularly instill fear in the heart, though Geometry absolutely kicked my ass in high school. Draco was a lawyer in Athens, and we know how universally despised attorneys are. Bonus points because it makes me think of that Malfoy character in the Harry Potter series, a downright wicked little prick. Plus, a really bad storm might cause a Quidditch tournament to be delayed.

When I first saw Khan I thought they were referring to the villain from Star Trek, the dude who killed Spock, and I thought, how appropriate – Ricardo Montalban was a monster! Then I realized it’s probably a reference to Genghis Khan, the Mongolian emperor who massacred civilians by the thousands. He was a big meanie, too.

Given TWC’s obsession with mythology, I’m assuming Helen refers to Helen of Troy and not, say, Helen Keller. Helen was “the most beautiful thing on the dark earth” and her abduction* caused a war that led to the launching of a thousand ships and much death and destruction. (*I put an asterisk here because in the movie Troy she seemed to go along with Paris pretty readily. Of course, Paris was played by Brad Pitt, and there are probably a lot of women who would consider that choice a no-brainer. Historic details are sketchy here).

Not all the names were derived from mythological gods and rulers. When I hear Gandolf, I picture the wizard from Lord of the Rings. You can bet your ass there’s going to be some old guy with long hair and a scraggly beard shouting “you shall not pass!” as the clouds begin to thicken. Then, as the storm rolls in, he’ll change his tune and warn us all to “run, you fools.”

I suppose Nemo is a literary reference to the captain in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea, but it forever reminds me of a cartoon fish. Everybody will be out looking for this storm, but unable to find it. Iago is a fictional character in Shakespeare’s Othello. As this storm threatens, I can picture newscasters going, “Thou doth make haste before thy storm approacheth.”

Yo, Adrian! Rocky is coming, and it looks like it’s going to pummel the city, knocking out power and flattening trees in its wake. If it’s windy, things are “gonna fly now.” (It would be particularly fitting if this storm struck Philadelphia).

I find it humorous that they came up with a name for X (Xerxes) but apparently just gave up when they reached Q.

Hey there, Boo Boo! Yogi is probably the least threatening name on here, but it’ll probably wreak havoc in Jellystone Park.

I worry about the stupidest things sometimes. Like, what if it’s a brutal winter and there are more than 26 storms worthy of names? Will they recycle them? Will we get a Brutus II or a Caesar Junior? Or will they consult their mythology and history books and literature and movie references and come up with a whole new slew of names like Prometheus and Nero and Frodo and Rambo? Inquiring minds are dying to know.

What do you think about this whole idea of naming winter storms? Is there a name you’d love to see?


Published by Mark Petruska

I'm a professional writer and editor living my best life in south central Wisconsin.

19 thoughts on “Greek Gods, Roman Emperors, and Snow

  1. I can kinda understand why they are naming storms. Who could ever forget Katrina? I don’t agree with some of the names…I mean, there are like 1000’s of names and they have to choose something like Q? Why not something like Willard or Ben? How about Sloth, Gluttony, Envy or Wrath?

    Iago was also on Aladdin…you know…the evil parrot!

    *Walking away, shaking my head!*

    *Loved this btw!!*


  2. What the…????? I may not live in hurricane country but blizzards are my pals. AND YET I have NEVER EVER heard of this crazy naming farce. Winter storm names need to be firece like old wrestlers or roller derby chicks. They need to still sound good when your nostrils are frozen shut and your eyelashes break off. I want a tough bad ass name for the winter storm I just survived – yet no one named it. Maybe I should hold a contest and send the winner hot-shots for their mitts. My poor dead frozen grandpa is likely not spinning in his grave after hearing this because its too cold…


    1. Old wrestlers or roller derby chicks…ha! I agree with you, E.T. We need tough names. And now all I can think of when I hear Iago is the parrot from Aladdin, thanks to Tracy. Let’s hope there isn’t a 9th named winter storm this year.


  3. “Yo, Adrian! Rocky is coming, and it looks like it’s going to pummel the city, knocking out power and flattening trees in its wake. If it’s windy, things are “gonna fly now.” (It would be particularly fitting if this storm struck Philadelphia).”

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Mark, that’s EXACTLY what I thought when I read the name in the list above!!!!



  4. I think they would rapidly run out of names – there are way too many winter storms for the number of names. What about the storm we just had which basically shut down Edmonton, St. Albert & surrounding areas down to Red Deer on Wednesday, then moved on to Calgary, Pinscher Creek, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat on Thursday. It moved into Saskatchewan & the upper US NW states on Friday & is expected in Manitoba & NW Ontario on Saturday. Nobody named this storm. Some of our storms are named – I give you “Alberta Clipper” which is a type of winter storm. Anyway, this was a good post – I enjoyed your take on the names.


  5. Mark Nelsen was ranting about this on his blog, too. Pretty stupid, if you ask me. Both you and he have already pointed out the flaws, so there’s no need for me to reiterate. 🙂


  6. Ok this was a superb post. As in Empire Records – dare me to say it again! Superb.

    I love your rundown of name critiques. But don’t knock Woody Allen. Virgil is more like the jerk husband in To Wong Foo Thanks For Everything Julie Newmar. And did they really pick Draco from a Roman lawyer? I was giving them the benefit of the doubt that it came from the star constellation. If not that is very disappointing.

    Correction for you: In the film version Troy Helen ran away with Orlando Bloom. Brad Pitt played Achilles. I know my movies and I know my hot men. In that sense I feel a kinship to Alicia Silverstone in Clueless. Lol

    Now get over to my Blog! I need music recommendations and I’m counting on you.


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