Lileks: A storm named what? Great Caesar's ghost!

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 13, 2012 - 8:18 PM

Last week we had the perfect winter storm. Perfect timing, perfect snow, perfect stage-dressing for the holidays to come. Even the next day, when you heard the car wheels spinning like the muffled cries of a mastodon knee-deep in a tar pit -- Rrrrrr! Rrrrrr! Rrrrrr! -- you felt a sense that all was right.

Unless you were towed. In which case you were mad.

OK, there are signs, I guess, and I got a robocall at home from the city and a Facebook message and a Twitter alert and they projected the mayor's face on the moon while loudspeakers blared out THE PLOWS ARE ON THEIR WAY, but c'mon, really? Towing my car?

Perhaps it's the calm tone of the robocall. The city has declared a snow emergency, he says in a flat tone of a bureaucrat describing a rule that codifies the minimum thickness for shingles. If it's an emergency, make it seem like one:

"Hello? Hello? Are you there? Look, it's the City, and I don't have much time! My God! The snow! It's everywhere! There's nothing we can do to stop it! What? (garbled crosstalk) Oh -- oh, I don't believe this, they're saying six semis spun out on I-94 and a choking cloud of chlorine gas is rolling over Riverside -- this can't be right. Hello? Are you there? Listen, it's all falling apart. There's nothing we can do. Tanks, guns, bombs -- they're powerless against this. Get your car to safety. Do you understand? Get your car in the garage. Hold on -- there's something at the window -- (frantic screams, gunshots) FROSTY? NO! IT CAN'T BE! AIM FOR THE MAGIC HAT! HE'S -- (static, dial tone) ..."

That would get people's attention.

But unless you were towed, Caesar was just lovely. I wouldn't mind if Draco hit before Christmas, just to freshen things up.

You have no idea what I'm talking about, do you.

Well, winter storms now have names.

When I saw a news story about "Winter Storm Caesar," I blinked, because that sounds like something you'd hear a parent of three unruly children shout in the aisles at Whole Foods, as in Winter! Storm! Caesar! Put down that artisanal soap!

This is not a government decision, but a blatant ratings troll -- er, a cultural shift -- encouraged by the Weather Channel. They've decided that winter storms should have names, just like hurricanes.

You ask: Hey, if that last one was Caesar, what was the one before? Brutus? Hyuk.

First of all, good for knowing some ancient Roman history. Second, yes, it was Brutus. I would have preferred that the first one was Agrippa, another fine Roman name, if only to hear the weatherperson say that the Upper Central Plains were in the grip of Agrippa, but no: It was Athena.

We missed that one. We missed Brutus. For all we know we'll miss Draco.

Also coming up: "Gandolf, a character in an 1896 fantasy novel in a pseudo-medieval countryside." Not to be confused with Gandalf, a character in a 1937 fantasy novel in a pseudo-medieval countryside. Really. Two different guys. Tolkien took the name for the "Lord of the Rings" character.

No one knows this, so when the TV screen says "Winter Storm Gandolf en route," they will get a flood of angry e-mails from people who accuse them of "speling Gandalf rong #FAIL"

There's Q, which is named after a subway in New York City. This is like naming a hurricane after a Midwest highway. "Residents are bracing as 35W makes landfall, although meteorologists say it may lose steam and be downgraded to 35E, with maximum speeds of 45 mph."

I like the idea, but only if it's local. Mythological or literary names chosen on our behalf mean nothing. You could name them after local figures -- "Snowstorm Ventura is on track to come in strong, then stall and end up as drizzle in Mexico" -- or sell naming rights. Target, for example, could pay the state $1 mil to name a storm "Wal-Mart."

The truth is, we prefer to date them. The Armistice Day Blizzard of 1940. The storied Halloween Dump-o-Rama of 1991. The National Slivered Almonds Day Blizzard of 1971. These we can fix in our minds, see where they fall on the calendar.

Which, after all, says more about the psychological impact of an interminable winter?

Snow Event Zeus?

Or the Cinco de Mayo blizzard of 2013?

jlileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858

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