A recently published paper claims that the gender of the name given to individual hurricanes is linked to the public’s perception of the risk posed by that storm. In short, this study claims that hurricanes given female-sounding names are perceived to be less dangerous than those given male-sounding names. The author concludes that more deaths result from “female” hurricanes.
Having grown up with the name Jan, many people have wrongly assumed I was female. I can appreciate that gender discrimination does in fact accompany names. However, I can’t quite make the leap that Hurricane Betty would cause more deaths than Hurricane Butch given they were of equal strength and a population would be of equal risk upon landfall. Would both males and females downplay the risk or is it only men who are more at risk of falling victim to a Hurricane Betty? The study does seem to indicate a problem.
Regardless, it raises the issue of why current storm naming conventions exist and whether they still serve a purpose. Today, we hear a male or female storm name followed by the current and projected strength of the storm. I suspect the meaning of the storm ranking scale is probably lost on most. Certainly, the need for action is not always clear.
If storm names are a problem, then this is a simple and cheap fix to make: develop names which engage the public and include intuitive descriptors of danger. Optimally, new storm names would also take into account the demographics and language preferences of those at risk upon landfall and be crafted to be heard and understood.
Let’s redesign storm rankings which include a description of how to react. For example, “Storm Rain on Your Parade” would clearly be less severe than “Storm Run for Your Life.” Let’s hope we never see “Storm Kiss Your Ass Goodbye,” but we should have the name just in case.
Simple, more informative names could actually improve our storm warning system. As an added benefit, more generic names won’t stigmatize men and women whose name happens to be the same as a killer storm — think of the poor Andrews and Katrinas!
With hurricane season underway, any improvements to raise awareness and educate people about preparedness measures is a good thing. Now is a great time to dust off hurricane plans and make sure triggers are gender-neutral.
Thoughts? Please share!