Winter Storm Classification

So it’s nice to refer to storms as the Valentines Day Blizzard of 2007 or the October Nor’easter, or President’s Day I, II or III. However, how do you refer to a storm that dropped 12-14, wasn’t on a holiday, didn’t effect major cities and didn’t really do anything but give skiers massive boners and countless faceshots? Saying “that thing in february that dropped 12 at the summit and 1 inch at the base and nobody was there was an awesome storm” sorta only works with a weather dork like me. We needed a better system. So I came up with one last winter. Basically, the premise was based on the Hurricane Naming system. In NHC model, storms are given names once they pass the tropical depression threshold and become tropical storms. Before that they are “invests” as a wave of Africa and numbered tropical depressions as the wave develops. That doesn’t work as cleanly with winter storms. Last year I tried the following model:

Winter Weather Event: Any time more than 4 or less than 8 inches of snow are possible across any part of the mountains of NY, VT, MA and NH an event will earn the “Winter Weather Event” title.

Winter Storm: Any time more than 8 or less than 15 inches of snow are possible across the any part of the mountains of NY, VT, MA and NH an event will earn the “Winter Storm” title.

Major Winter Storm: Any time more than 16 inches of snow are possible across any part of the mountains of NY, VT, MA and NH an event will earn the “Major Winter Storm” title.

Blizzard: Any time a winter storm meets the NOAA certified definiation of a blizzard in BURLINGTON VERMONT, SARANAC LAKE NY or any other low elevation NWS certified recording station it will earn the BLizzard title.

Following these, each storm will be named like hurricanes are named. I’m starting with the names from the 1950 hurricane season. So we will see things like Winter Weather Event Baker. Or Major Winter Storm Charlie…next year will use the same classification but use the names from the 1951 Hurricane season. So forth an so on. If it works for hurricanes it should work for us.

I’ll use the modifier “potential” in the titles when there is the chance for either a Winter Storm or Major Winter Storm. I think its important to note the potential of events. In hurricane forecasting when models show development of tropical waves, forecasters use the term “invest” when they investigate the tropical waves depicted by models to develop into tropical systems. I don’t like invest so I’ll use potential and preserve the idea. Potential will not be used within 24 hours of an event when it’s become clear what type of event we have. Secondly, storms can move up and down the scale just like tropical systems. Once a system shows the potential to produce snows in the above categories inside of 5 days it will get a name. As it develops, we’ll move its classification up or down accordingly. Sound good? Ok. Cool.

Well in practice last winter, that model proved too complicated. The classification from W.W.E to blizzard never panned out. So I’m scrapping that part going forward. We’re keeping the names because that worked great but we’re reserving the names for only storms that have the potential to produce 12 inches of snow. So now this winter you’ll get two things. Regular weather forecasts that that will cover snows less than 12 inches, and specific posts targeted at big storms. When a bigger storm threatens, one that can produce 12+ somewhere, you’ll see the storm naming system pop up. It’s the cleanest and fastest way to keep track of major northeast systems while not overburdening you, the reader, every time a little wave wants to make 7-8 inches of pow along the spine.


  1. ATP
    wrote on September 5th, 2012 at 10:12 am  

    So, how do we refer to the magic snow event that happens on 3rd Wednesay in January – “Charlie’s kid sister”?

    • Lionel Hutz
      wrote on October 2nd, 2012 at 2:29 pm  

      Still working on that aspect of it. Frankly that’s why this is so much more complicated than Hurricanes. There are countless little “events” that pop up and produce 6-10 inches of snow in a very small area.
      I think the real answer lines in what Mesoscale classification would apply to the area wehre 12+ inches of snow could fall. I think realistically we have to be well into the Meso-Beta category. I.e. spacial scope of greater than 20km and more likely closer to the upper end of Meso-Beta – 100-150km. Things smaller than that are just “weather.” To name every wave would get absurd. There are prob. 50-60 of those in a given winter (whether than pan out or not).

  2. Luca B
    wrote on September 5th, 2012 at 10:25 am  

    Don Hutz, I am honored and grateful that you have introduced me to your new Winter Storm Classification… on the day of the introduction of your Winter Storm Classification. And I hope its first storm be a Major Winter Storm. I pledge my ever-ending loyalty.

    -Luca B

  3. mtl_ripper
    wrote on September 5th, 2012 at 7:18 pm  

    Sounds good. Bring the snowcast that I may depart the city under cover of darkness, adventure-bound.

  4. chris
    wrote on September 6th, 2012 at 9:37 am  

    what about maine? Does western Maine not get snow this winter?

    • Anonymous
      wrote on January 28th, 2013 at 10:37 am  

      So only “events” in the above named cities/areas ? What about the rest of the country? Did you wipe us off the map? All this “naming thing” is so ridiculous. I grew up in Maine, so I know all about winter, winter storms, and blizzards. I have a working acquaintance with the handle of a shovel. Please stop dumbing down the public with stupid things like naming storms

    • Greg
      wrote on January 28th, 2013 at 11:33 am  

      funny you found this article at this point in time “Anonymous”… You’ll notice, we actually STOPPED doing the winter naming thing. We learned in the middle of trying to do this classification, pretty much that you are exactly right. It’s just too tough, is prone to a certain sense of arbitrary lines in the sand, and most importantly, doesn’t get the necessary information across to folks who are looking for what they want: Snow totals. If you spend all your energy on the logic of a winter-storm-naming-system, you got nothing left to figure out what you need to know! ;)

      You’ll notice this post applies for a winter-past, not winter-present. We’re done with this. Let the Weather Channel enjoy the trouble of keeping it straight.


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