The start of the 2014 hurricane season coincided with the release of a study from the University of Illinois which states that historically, storms christened with female names caused more fatalities than storms with male names. One of the underlying reasons for this is because names produce a certain perception, and the perception is that daintily named hurricanes can't be too problematic. Their namesakes typically aren’t.
In the interest of full disclosure, I haven't read the article, just the media coverage and the authors' responses to the media coverage, all of which intrigued me. While it seems as though the authors tried to eliminate certain variables which would skew their results (removing Katrina and Audrey from their data set since they were outliers), this historical analysis, by definition, cannot incorporate the multiple aspects of hurricane forecasting and communication which have improved in recent decades, leading to fewer fatalities. Today we have real-time social media updates connecting community members, satellite imaging of the storm and its projected track and round-the-clock media attention drawing attention to an event, as opposed to 40 years ago when perhaps radio and the 6 o'clock news were our sources of information.
To support their findings in the historical data, the authors also asked volunteers to react to a variety of questions and situations. One experiment asked them to predict hurricane intensity, without any other information but the name. The name "Omar," was predicted to be the most intense, while the name "Dolly," was predicted to be the least intense. Another experiment supplied the volunteers with two identical scenarios: A hurricane is threatening the coast and a voluntary evacuation order is in place. The only difference? One storm was named Danny, and the other was named Kate. More volunteers said they'd evacuate for Danny than Kate.
With the study run out of the University of Illinois, most of the volunteers were from a landlocked state, where the choice to evacuate is a purely hypothetical situation. Would volunteers from Texas, Louisiana, Florida, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts, for example, respond differently? I venture they might, since the decision to evacuate has been a reality many in those states have faced. What would you do if a Category 4 hurricane was approaching your hometown? Would you be less concerned if it was named Belle instead of Barry?
Category: Climate/natural disasters: Disaster risk, Floods/storms, Resilience
Location: United States