By Tyler Allen Explore Big Sky Associate Editor
BOZEMAN – Latin isn’t dead. The ancient Roman language is still used in science, medicine and linguistics, and since last winter, The Weather Channel has been using it to name the most significant winter storms of the season.
When one of Erika Shupe’s Bozeman High School Latin students saw the newspaper headline, “Brutus comes to bury Bozeman,” in November 2012, she used it as a teachable moment. TWC named the storm after the Roman Senator best known as one of Julius Caesar’s assassins. A boy in her third period class joked, “Why don’t we come up with next year’s names [for the storms]?”
Shupe put her curriculum on hold for two days and encouraged the kids to study more mythology as they came up with a list of Latin and Greek names. The students in five different Latin classes collaborated on writing a professional letter to TWC proposing their ideas.
“Ms. Shupe got [her] class interested,” said Bryan Norcross, senior storm specialist at TWC. “They sent an email to me with four lists of future years…It was really terrific, we had regular interaction throughout the year.” The Atlanta-based network sent a camera crew to Shupe’s classroom in March, and the available students from her Latin classes gave up a day of their spring break to be filmed for the special, “A Storm Named Winter.”
The National Hurricane Center has been naming Atlantic hurricanes since 1950, but TWC is the first weather entity to name winter storms. When a major snow event hit the northeast in October 2011, its social media service called it “Snowtober,” and the name – as well as the hashtag #snowtober on Twitter – took off, prompting TWC’s television coverage to adopt the name.
“It became obvious that having a hashtag to talk about storms is critical,” Norcross said, explaining the efficiency of conveying information about hazardous weather this way. For winter 2012-13, he created a list of mythological monikers so they wouldn’t be confused with hurricane names, and threw in a few others he liked such as “Gandolf” and “Q.”
TWC names storms that will have a significant impact on metropolitan areas or over a large geographical region. The storm hashtags generated more than 1 billion impressions on Twitter last winter, and TWC’s storm names were used around the country by power companies, schools and the city of New York, according to Norcross.
In April, he chose his favorites from the lists Shupe’s students had provided for this winter, which include Atlas, Hercules, Maximus and Ulysses. Winter storm Dion – short for Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and winemaking – was hammering the Interstate 95 corridor with sleet, freezing rain and snow at EBS press time on Dec. 11.
Norcross is hopeful other weather entities will begin adopting the names and has had conversations with the National Weather Service and the meteorological community about collaborating on a system that’s used across agencies. He’s not sure if the Bozeman students will be involved in naming the storms next winter, but Shupe’s Latin club would be enthusiastic if they are.
Sophomore Harry Schwem’s Latin name is Falco, which was chosen as one of the storm names this year and will be the next one named by TWC. “My grandfather [in St. Paul, Minn.] watched the original show and saw me on TV,” said the 15-year-old Schwem. “He was really proud we were known nationally.”
Ren Wall, 15, said his father was excited Ren was participating in Latin because the elder Wall studied the classics in college. Ren appreciates the application the ancient tongue has in contemporary academia, noting that his Latin instruction helps him pronounce and remember the scientific names of animals in his biology class.
“Language is going to keep changing,” the younger Wall said. “Latin doesn’t, it’s just temporarily zombified.”
“Let’s say dormant,” Schwem added.