KSJ Tracker January 25, 2013

Three months after Sandy: What are we supposed to call it?

Three months after Sandy, many of the news media have settled on Superstorm Sandy as the way to describe the storm that ravaged the Northeast and elsewhere in early November. 

I've had enough of "superstorm" and its tabloid connotations. What was the thing actually called? And what should the press call it? 

On January 15, 2010, the National Weather Service fell into line with other member countries of the World Meteorological Organization by agreeing to call such storms "post-tropical cyclones." And it defined the term, in a release in an all-caps text file that looks as though it came over an old AP teletype sometime around 1942:

A FORMER TROPICAL CYCLONE. THIS GENERIC TERM DESCRIBES A CYCLONE THAT NO LONGER POSSESSES SUFFICIENT TROPICAL CHARACTERISTICS TO BE CONSIDERED A TROPICAL CYCLONE. POST-TROPICAL CYCLONES CAN CONTINUE CARRYING HEAVY RAINS AND HIGH WINDS.

There are two kinds of post-tropical cyclones. A "remnant low" post-tropical cyclone is one "that no longer possesses the convective organization required of a tropical cyclone...and has maximum sustained windw of less than 34 knots." An "extratropical cyclone" is a cylone "of any intensity for which the primary energy source is baroclinic /that is...results from the temperature contrast between warm an cold air masses." (I'm using the National Weather Service punctuation.)

Clear?

So no more Superstorm Sandy, or doomsday meteorite, or monster squid. Please. The alternative? I suppose we could call it Hurricane Sandy, on the grounds that once it's been a hurricane, it never loses that courtesy title, as is the case with senators and presidents. But that wouldn't be quite right either. "Post-tropical cyclone" might not roll off the tongue, but it's accurate, and it avoids the tabloid tinge of "Superstorm Sandy." Not to mention the wrath of the Supercritic Tracker.

-Paul Raeburn

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