Hurricanes have in the past few days ravaged Texas in the United States and destroyed huge parts of the Caribbean islands. The disaster that plunged Texas into confusion is named Harvey while the one ploughing through the Caribbean and heading towards Florida, is named Irma.
Harvey, Irma, Katrina, Rita, Matthew…these are beautiful names for boys and girls, but they are names for ugly, destructive hurricanes! Why?
An article by Time Magazine explains: “The reason for those names is simple: Human names are easier to remember than numbers or meteorological jargon.
Before the current naming system was adopted, experts named hurricanes differently. While some storms were named after the geographical locations they hit, others were named for the saint’s feast day on which they struck.
There were at least two in the 19th century named after specific men. The 1834 “Padre Ruiz” hurricane hit the Dominican Republic on the same day as the burial of a beloved priest of that name, while “Saxby’s Gale,” which hit Canada in 1869, was named for the British naval lieutenant said to have predicted the exact day the storm would hit.
A section of Atlantic Hurricanes by Gordon E. Dunn and Banner I. Miller, quoted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Agency, claims that when the late 19th century Australian meteorologist, Clement Wragge didn’t get a job he wanted as director of Australia’s weather bureau, he sought revenge by naming hurricanes after the politicians who had not supported him.
“By properly naming a hurricane, the weatherman could publicly describe a politician (who perhaps was not too generous with weather-bureau appropriations) as ‘causing great distress’ or ‘wandering aimlessly about the Pacific,’” the authors note.
Wragge’s weather bureau would eventually close, but that wouldn’t prevent his idea from striking a chord: decades later, author George Stewart took a page from Wragge for a bestselling novel. “In his 1941 novel Storm, a junior meteorologist named Pacific extratropical storms after former girlfriends,” according to NOAA. “The novel was widely read, especially by US Army Air Forces and Navy meteorologists during World War II. When Reid Bryson, E.B. Buxton, and Bill Plumley were assigned to Saipan in 1944 to forecast tropical cyclones they decided to name them (à la Stewart) after their wives.”
In 1970, women’s rights activist, Roxcy Bolton wrote a letter to the National Hurricane Center in Miami requesting that officials “cease and desist” from using female names to describe hurricanes, which “reflects and creates an extremely derogatory attitude toward women,” who “deeply resent being arbitrarily associated with disaster.” The letter also pointed to a dictionary definition of hurricane as “evil spirit” to help back up its point.
In another letter, dated New Year’s Day 1972, she called for storms to be named after U.S. Senators because they “delight in having streets, bridges, buildings” named after them.
In 1978, the agency finally changed course. The NOAA Administrator Richard A. Frank announced hurricanes would start getting male names, too.
The first hurricane given a male name would be “Bob,” which hit the Gulf Coast region on July 11, 1979.
Studies however shows that hurricanes named after women have happened to be deadlier than the ones named after men.
Since storms were detected and named in advance, people were always advised to prepare for it. But researchers in a 2014 study stated that storms named after women didn’t sound so aggressive or deadly, so people did not take it so serious as to prepare adequately. And the consequence is that they destroy more.
Some popular hurricanes that have male and female names
The sleepy Mississippi Gulf Coast got pummeled by this Category 5 storm back in 1969. At the time, total damage only topped around $1.4 billion, but if the same storm struck today residents would face around $21.1 billion.
In 1960, this storm tore through the Florida Keys, producing storm surges of up to 13 feet. Notably, Donna holds the record for sustaining hurricane status for 17 days.
When Hurricane Andrew struck Dale County in Florida as a Category 5 storm in 1992, it ranked as the costliest storm on record, causing $26.5 billion in damage.
Katrina was initially labeled as the most destructive hurricane when it hit the Mississippi Gulf Coast and Louisiana in 2005
Hurricane Ike, which has a Nigerian Igbo sounding name, was a powerful tropical cyclone that swept through portions of the Greater Antilles and Northern America in September 2008, wreaking havoc on infrastructure and agriculture, particularly in Cuba and Texas.
Would my baby’s name cause a hurricane someday?
Baby names don’t cause hurricanes, but some hurricanes get their names from baby names. In any case, very few parents want their baby names associated with hurricanes or storms.
Reuters reports that baby names associated with hurricanes have plummetted especially in the United States.
According to the report, Katrina had its heyday in 1982, when 3,323 baby girls cooed to that moniker, but the name nose-dived after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005. Since then, it has all but disappeared from nurseries, dropping from 1,327 baby girls called Katrina in 2005 to just 190 last year.
The report continued: “Sandy was most popular as a girl’s name in 1960, when it was the choice for 3,648 newborns. After the huge storm hit the East Coast in the fall of 2012, the number dropped from 138 babies in that year to 86 in 2016.
“It was the fifth most-popular name for U.S. newborns when Hurricane Andrew blasted ashore in Miami in 1992, but it immediately dropped to 10th place in 1993, then 11th in 1995. Then it climbed back to fifth place in 2003, when 22,148 newborn boys, the most ever, burbled to the name”.
It added: “Only time will tell if the name Harvey will face a grim fate in the wake of the hurricane that slammed the Gulf Coast, killed dozens of people and caused record damage.
“In recent years, the name had been gaining momentum slowly and was most popular in 2016, when parents chose it for 770 babies. But at least one expert thinks the storm will put an end to that trend.
“Harvey will tank,” Jonah Berger, author of “Contagious: Why Things Catch On” and marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, predicted on Friday.