Another cold, dangerous Nor'easter storm is coming to the mid-Atlantic and the nation's two biggest weather authorities are divided over what to call it.
The winter storm, which comes just a week after Superstorm Sandy, is expected make a direct hit on the areas Sandy hit hardest: New Jersey, New York, and parts of Pennsylvania and Delaware. Forecasters are predicting the storm will bring cold, nasty weather. The high winds, snow, and freezing rain will likely exacerbate the power outages and other disruptions, delaying the storm recovery across the mid-Atlantic.
The storm is serious enough that The Weather Channel has named it Athena, the first-ever named winter storm.
"The combination of wind, rain and snow from a Nor'easter, immediately after a devastating storm like Sandy, will certainly impact recovery efforts in those areas, and many will be impacted by freezing temperatures, power outages and travel disruptions caused by snow storms," said Tom Niziol, winter weather expert for The Weather Company. "Naming Athena raises awareness and will reduce the risks, danger, and confusion for consumers in the storm's path."
The National Weather Service has disavowed any attempts to name this current Nor'easter and other winter storms. In one of its weather alerts for the upcoming storm, the Service explicitly requested the Weather Channel's naming be ignored.
"TWC has named the nor'easter 'Athena.' The NWS does not use name winter storms in our products. Please refrain from using the term Athena in any of our products."
The NWS provides weather and climate data, as well as forecasts and other predictive services, to news agencies and local weather bureaus. These dispatches often form the basis for storm advisories and the coverage of weather events such as the approaching winter storm.
This beef emerges now because Athena is the first storm of the Weather Channel's new winter storm-naming system, which it announced in October. The company says naming winter storms makes "communication and information sharing easier" and hopes to raise awareness and improve preparedness to potential danger. The channel's naming system will mimic the one used to name tropical storms. A small group of its meteorologists will choose the names (which cannot have ever been on tropical storm name lists) and will dub the storms three days before their impact.
Though the two weather groups disagree about how to refer to it, they agree on its potential impacts. Both forecast plummeting temperatures and dry air from Washington, D.C., to New Hampshire until around noon Wednesday. In the early afternoon, the heavy rainfall will begin, which could bring yet more flooding along the coast. In some places that moisture will fall as freezing rain, and approximately 1 to 3 inches of snow are expected near Philadelphia, northern Delaware, and New Jersey. From southwestern New York up through the New England interior, the snowfall could be as much as 3 to 6 inches. The storm's forecasted impacts strongly resemble those of Superstorm Sandy's.
"Along the coasts you'll have coastal flooding and beach erosion starting tonight. Further inland it will be a mix of snow and sleet, plus high winds," says David Radell, meteorologist with the National Weather Service. "The impact of high winds and snow will likely bring down some trees, power lines, and high limbs and will exacerbate the problems caused by last week's storm."
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Seth Cline is a reporter for U.S. News and World Report. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.