Hurricanes With Female Names Are Deadlier Than Storms With Male Names

Hell hath no fury like a woman storm.

National Journal
Marina Koren
June 2, 2014, 11:02 a.m.

Which storm sounds scar­i­er: Hur­ricane Ar­thur or Hur­ricane Dolly?

If you picked Ar­thur, you may be in trouble. Hur­ricanes with fem­in­ine names are likely to kill sig­ni­fic­antly more people than hur­ricanes with mas­cu­line names, ac­cord­ing to a new study of more than six dec­ades of U.S. storms.

Uni­versity of Illinois re­search­ers tracked the death tolls for every hur­ricane that touched down on U.S. soil between 1950 and 2012 (they left out 1957’s Audrey and 2005’s Kat­rina, be­cause those storms were much dead­li­er than usu­al). They found that the more fem­in­ine the storm’s name, the high­er its death toll. A lot high­er, too: Their ana­lys­is sug­gests that chan­ging a hur­ricane’s name from Char­ley to Eloise could nearly triple the storm’s fatal­it­ies. This ef­fect held for storms be­fore 1979, which were only giv­en fe­male names.

That’s be­cause people per­ceive hur­ricanes’ names like they do people’s names: in the con­text of gender-based ex­pect­a­tions. The more fem­in­ine a storm name sounds, the less severe the pub­lic thinks the storm will be. (For this study, sep­ar­ate par­ti­cipants rated the fem­in­in­ity or mas­culin­ity of names without know­ing they were for storms.) In­deed, when re­search­ers asked people to ima­gine be­ing in the path of hur­ricanes Al­ex­an­dra, Christina, or Vic­tor­ia, they rated the storm as less power­ful and risky than those who were told to ima­gine hur­ricanes Al­ex­an­der, Chris­toph­er, or Vic­tor. 

“In judging the in­tens­ity of a storm, people ap­pear to be ap­ply­ing their be­liefs about how men and wo­men be­have,” ex­plains Shar­on Shavitt, who coau­thored the study. “This makes a fe­male-named hur­ricane, es­pe­cially one with a very fem­in­ine name such as Belle or Cindy, seem gentler and less vi­ol­ent.”

This means that people take few­er pre­cau­tions as these hur­ricanes ap­proach, which leaves them more vul­ner­able once they hit. “People ima­gin­ing a ‘fe­male’ hur­ricane were not as will­ing to seek shel­ter,” Shavitt said.

But hur­ricane names, fem­in­ine or mas­cu­line, are com­pletely ar­bit­rary and have noth­ing to do with sever­ity. The Na­tion­al Hur­ricane Cen­ter ro­tates six al­pha­bet­ic­al lists of names every year, which are chosen by the World Met­eor­o­lo­gic­al Or­gan­iz­a­tion in Geneva through an in­ter­na­tion­al vot­ing com­mit­tee. When storms are es­pe­cially dev­ast­at­ing, like Kat­rina, their names are re­tired from use.

The names of the first few hur­ricanes of the 2014 sea­son, which of­fi­cially began this past week­end, will be Ar­thur, Ber­tha, Cris­to­bal, and Dolly. Don’t dis­count Dolly.

This story has been up­dated.

{{ BIZOBJ (video: 4992) }}

What We're Following See More »
STAFF PICKS
What the Current Crop of Candidates Could Learn from JFK
19 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

Much has been made of David Brooks’s recent New York Times column, in which confesses to missing already the civility and humanity of Barack Obama, compared to who might take his place. In NewYorker.com, Jeffrey Frank reminds us how critical such attributes are to foreign policy. “It’s hard to imagine Kennedy so casually referring to the leader of Russia as a gangster or a thug. For that matter, it’s hard to imagine any president comparing the Russian leader to Hitler [as] Hillary Clinton did at a private fund-raiser. … Kennedy, who always worried that miscalculation could lead to war, paid close attention to the language of diplomacy.”

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Maher Weighs in on Bernie, Trump and Palin
20 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

“We haven’t seen a true leftist since FDR, so many millions are coming out of the woodwork to vote for Bernie Sanders; he is the Occupy movement now come to life in the political arena.” So says Bill Maher in his Hollywood Reporter cover story (more a stream-of-consciousness riff than an essay, actually). Conservative states may never vote for a socialist in the general election, but “this stuff has never been on the table, and these voters have never been activated.” Maher saves most of his bile for Donald Trump and Sarah Palin, writing that by nominating Palin as vice president “John McCain is the one who opened the Book of the Dead and let the monsters out.” And Trump is picking up where Palin left off.

Source:
×