Monday, November 24th, 2014 by Chris Emmons
The 2014 hurricane season seems to have all but passed us by and only reached 5 named storms though predictions had warned of up to 11 storms this year. We rely on our weather services to give us disaster preparedness warnings but they often are off mark. For those who have experienced the power of a storm, we know that over-preparedness is never a bad idea.
Better Safe Than Sorry
Even small tropical depressions that are not even technically storms, can produce wind gusts of 23-39 miles an hour and produce torrential downpours, as we saw in October in Winter Park, FL. when businesses, streets, and houses were flooded. We were half expecting to see Noah loading up the ark... Often a storm like that can bring wind damage in the form of downed tree limbs and significant water damage that can hinder business and can turn homes into a water-soaked sponge.
11 storms were slated for 2014, with only 2 of those becoming major hurricanes. Often, these storms may not even make landfall. Despite the lack of activity in our 2014 hurricane season, we’d like to touch on a favorite topic in the realm of natural disasters; the name game. To be more specific, we’re going address the naming of storms and stir the pot by leading a conversation about the sexes.
The Battle Begins
Whether male or female, a Sandy or an Earl, hurricane names can have as little or as much significance as we give them. The name Sandy will never be the same to New Jersey and New York residents that experienced her fury in late October of 2012 and Earl is no longer just your favorite neighborhood drinking buddy; he’s now responsible for 45 million dollars of damage as a tropical cyclone in the Cape Verde Islands and up the East Coast in 2010.
Historically male hurricanes have been far more severe in scope as far as strength. However, believe it or not...female hurricanes tend to be deadlier. Male names only started being used in 1979.
Why were storms originally only named after women?
By 1953 The United States Weather Bureau had developed a list of female names to use that were original, they remained the same by season and simply rotated. When the 1960 season came around forecasters began developing new lists every season that covered the entire alphabet.
Eventually the letters Q, U, Y, X and Z were dropped from the list. It seems Zelda wasn't a very popular storm name.
Before 1950 hurricanes were commonly identified with longitude and latitude tags.
"I remember the great storm of 1949. When 100∘ E and 180 hit, you were just a twinkle in my eye! Oh boy, that 100 degree E was one mean hurricane."
This may have been something that we can imagine our grandparents saying back in those days. Eventually, meteorologists conceded to using official human names since people found these less complicated. Latitude and longitude tags were confusing, especially when several storms occurred simultaneously in the same area.
The Politics Of Names
Unofficial names were still a common practice before 1950. Tropical cyclones we named after annoying politicians, mythological creatures, saints and locations. Imagine your weatherman reporting from the scene of a coastal storm surge where one Richard Nixon was about to flood the shore!
So, once again; why just female storms to start? We actually were unable to find a direct answer to this question. Our hypothesis sits around the meteorologists making the decisions, at the time, they were probably men. It seems the naming of hurricanes definitely started with some slightly sexist attitudes.
Sexism Can Cost You Your Life
It gets even dirtier than that. A recent study conducted by The National Academy of Sciences shows that hurricane’s with female names are way more deadlier than male ones. Why is that? They simply don’t get the respect they deserve!
Researchers examined six decades of hurricane death rates according to the storm name’s gender, starting in 1950 and ending in 2012. Of the 47 most damaging hurricanes, the female-named hurricanes produced an average of 45 deaths compared to 23 deaths in male-named storms, or almost double the number of fatalities.
Although this blatant sexism has been revealed, it may not be as bad as we think. The study stated that death tolls were not necessarily due to not taking a female storm seriously but rather a female name gave people an association of “warmth” and "kindness.”
“Whether the name is Sam or Samantha, the deadly impacts of the hurricane – wind, storm surge and inland flooding – must be taken seriously by everyone in the path of the storm in order to protect lives,” said Dennis Feltgen, National Hurricane Center spokesperson. “This includes heeding evacuation orders."
Back To The Future
Today the World Meteorological Organization is responsible for naming Hurricanes. Tropical depressions are the first to be named. We usually only get to know them once they develop into full blow hurricanes. Six lists of names are used for Atlantic storms and they are rotated annually. Names are recycled each time a list is repeated. Storms that are particularly devastating are retired from the list of names and replaced by a new name.
Arthur, Bertha, Cristobal, Dolly, Edouard, Fay, Gonzalo, Hanna, Isaias, Josephine, Kyle, Laura, Marco, Nana, Omar, Paulette, Rene, Sally, Teddy, Vicky, and Wilfred are listed on for the 2014 season. We won’t revisit this list until 2020.
Hurricane History Month
A quiet hurricane season is always preferred to a busy one. In our business, we’re tasked with providing Florida residents with immediate and reliable support after a storm be it large or small, female named or male.
We're declaring the last months of the season as our very own Hurricane History Month. Since we’ve been experiencing a slow season we thought it would be interesting to jog our memories. We hope this doesn’t jinx it.
Check back for more insights into historical hurricanes as we walk down memory land throughout the coming month. We’ll be posting historical hurricane content to our Twitter feed and Facebook page in hopes that the hurricanes stay in the past!
Stay dry and stay safe!
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