Apparently, Storms Named After Women Are Deadlier Than Those Named After Men Because of Sexism

Bay Ridge after Hurricane Sandy. Photo by Henry Stewart
Bay Ridge after Hurricane Sandy.
Photo by Henry Stewart

“Like, totally thought this was an Onion story,” wrote our boss, after sending us the link to a Washington Post story that claims “storms with female names have historically killed more people because they neither consider them as risky nor take the same precautions.” Just another thing for which to blame the patriarchy, you guys.

The Post cites a study which demonstrates that, in the more than 60 years since hurricanes and other tropical storms have been given names, “of the 47 most damaging hurricanes, the male-named hurricane produced an average of 23 deaths compared to 45 deaths for female-named hurricanes, or almost double the number of fatalities.  (The study excluded Katrina and Audrey, outlier storms that would skew the model.)” The reasoning behind this is assumed to be as simple as the sexism and gender-based stereotypes that pretty much lie at the foundation of our entire society. In other words, because we think of women as being more gentle and less aggressive than men, we don’t tend to seek out appropriate shelter or equip ourselves adequately when we hear that a female-named storm is coming our way.

While it is easy to dismiss this as mere coincidence, after the data was initially analyzed, researchers conducted additional tests “presenting a series of questions to between 100 to 346 people.  The sexism showed up again. Respondents predicted male hurricanes to be more intense the female hurricanes in one exercise.  In another exercise, the hurricane sex affected how respondents said they would prepare for a hurricane.” So even though, here in New York, some of the most vicious storms in recent memory have been named after women—Sandy, Irene, and Rita—it seems that gender bias is so entrenched that it’s almost impossible to rise above our subconscious sexism—even when our lives are at risk.

There aren’t, at present, any plans to change the naming system (which currently alters storm names in a male-female pattern throughout the season), but we think that this is short-sighted. When the storm naming system was first invented, all the storms were named after women—male names weren’t used until 1979. We advocate going back to the all-female naming system, and implicitly endorse traditionally women’s names as being more fierce and intimidating than those of men. And, you know, we’ll go even further and advocate that all future hurricanes be named after Game of Thrones characters for added ferocity. We don’t know about you, but we’d be far more frightened of a Hurricane Arya than a Hurricane Theon.

Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen


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