Thor storms across the country

Use of this Nordic name for the winter storm battering the U.S. shows the nation’s inclusiveness

Thor, god of thunder, the namesake of Storm Thor

Victoria Hofmo
Brooklyn, N.Y.

You know you’ve really made it when a storm or hurricane bears your name. So I was truly proud to hear that the winter storm hitting the U.S. in the end of February was named Thor. No, that is not my name, but it is a Scandinavian name being recognized by the common culture.

According to USA Today, hurricanes, large storms, cyclones, and other major weather conditions are named in order to distinguish between them. Before this system was in place, storms were identified by location. This became problematic when storms occurred simultaneously or overlapped. As we know, storms can change course, so this was not the best method of identification.

In view of the enormous potential for a mix-up, it is hard to believe that storms went unnamed until the 1950s. But perhaps on reflection this makes sense, as this is when television began to enter living rooms and disseminate news, including weather, as well as adding a visual component, that perhaps needed a sexier nomenclature. In 1950, hurricanes began to be named using the joint British–U.S. World War II spelling alphabet—Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog, Easy, and so on. By 1953 they began using female names. Eventually, in 1979, they alphabetically alternated between genders, for example first storm Aksel, second storm Berit. It was also in that year that names common in France and Spain were added.

Some places have a subscribed list of names that they recycle. Names vary in different parts of the country. For example storms that affect the western Pacific are based on Hawaiian names, with a system entirely their own. And of course, each country and culture has their own naming system that reflects their own language. In the U.S. today, it is generally a group of meteorologists that determines storm names. Hurricane names come from six lists that are used over and over, with new names added only as names of particularly destructive storms are retired.

Winter storms have been only been in effect since 2011, when the Weather Channel started doing so to considerable controversy.

This winter, the weather has kicked the butt of most U.S. regions. And it is not letting up. Winter Storm Sparta just attacked north Texas then charged east, combating each state it blew through along the way.

Right on its tail was Storm Thor, which attacked from the southwest flank of the country. It thundered across the western states and midwest at lightening speed, ending in the east; lobbing ice, snow, and rain along the way. Lexington, Ky., set a two-day snowstorm record, with parts of the state picking up over 20 inches of snow.

Like all Norse gods, Thor has both bad and good characteristics. In this case, the god of storm weather and thunder will show his benevolence out west, by bringing water to an area suffering from drought.

Sparta’s punch being followed by pummeling Thor reveals more than weather predictions. In these names we can see how far our country’s sense of inclusiveness has come. There are many other “exotic” winter storm names this year. Those used to date include Astro, Bozeman, Cato, Damon, Eris, Frona, Gorgon, Hektor, Iola, Juno, Kari (another name favored by Scandinavians), Linus, Marcus, Neptune, Octavia, Pandora, Quantum, and Remus. Other names waiting in the wings (and we all hope this is where they will stay) are Ultima, Venus, W (not yet named), Xander, Yuli, and finally Zelus. No Tom, Dick, and Mary in this list. And of course, some of these names are common in a variety of cultures, like Damon. Greek names dominate, but we have Thor and no other culture can claim that name.

All I can say is after the winter we have had, wherever Storm Thor lands, I hope you haven’t been hammered. And don’t forget, another Norse goddess is almost upon us—Idun, the goddess of spring and rejuvenation. May her gentle breath touch you all like a soft kiss.

This article originally appeared in the March 13, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.