GOES-16 true color satellite imagery showing Hurricane Florence's landfall near Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina on September 14, 2018. The National Hurricane Center reported Florence had sustained winds of 90 mph at landfall and was moving slowly westward at 6 mph.
With the recent start of hurricane season and an active 2018 season, names like Florence and Michael come to mind. Katrina (2005), Maria (2017) - two of the top five deadliest hurricanes in U.S. history. But, do hurricane names affect how you prepare and evacuate?
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) generates and maintains the list of hurricane names- a list of male and female names that are used on a six-year rotation. These names help to identify individual hurricanes (especially when there are multiple occurrences at once) and be able to communicate a message of safety more effectively. Here are the list of Atlantic hurricane names for 2019: Andrea, Barry, Chantal, Dorian, Erin, Fernand, Gabrielle, Humberto, Imelda, Jerry, Karen, Lorenzo, Melissa, Nestor, Olga, Pablo, Rebekah, Sebastien, Tanya, Van, Wendy. The only time hurricane names are not reused is when a storm is deadly or costly enough that its name would be inappropriate to use again.
However, this naming convention may have also played into gender stereotypes. Social scientists have come to believe that feminine-named hurricanes have led to more deaths due to underestimating their risk and perceiving them as less dangerous. Certain names may play into corresponding societal roles and expectations of that sex. Male-sounding names are thought to be perceived as “intense” and “strong”. A study by the University of Illinois found that over 6 decades of hurricanes, female hurricane names had the highest death rates – as much as 3x for strong hurricanes. (There seemed to be little effect on femininity or masculinity of milder storms). For example, when asked if fictional hurricane “Alexander” or “Alexandra”, it was found that Alexander was deemed the “riskier” storm.
Hurricanes did indeed have female-only names up until the late 1970’s due to their unpredictable nature, but was deemed a sexist practice. Opponents of the study say there are other factors that determine whether people are likely to evacuate: prior evacuations, having children and/or pets, and perceived structure of your home. Regardless, these findings may have important implications in the future about how storm preparedness is conveyed, especially with warming-based impacts.
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©2019 Meteorologist Sharon Sullivan