Hurricane Thoughts

mturer's picture

So, obviously a lot of us are scrambling to prepare ourselves for the hurricane and adjusting our plans to fit its needs. I think this is relevant to our recent conversations and that unpacking this might be interesting.

I experienced this less when I lived in a tropical climate prone to hurricanes, but people around here are either extremely apprehensive or extremely excited about the idea of the hurricane hitting Bryn Mawr. Either way, we are reacting to something that we do not understand in very typical and very human ways. That is absolutely acceptable, but sometimes it looks like we are trying to comfort ourselves by turning the storms into something campy, familiar, and non-threatening, even though a lot of times they are a lot more damaging than the way they are portrayed. For instance, we give hurricanes names. This potentially dangerous and uncontrollable storm has been given the name "Sandy." 

Naming hurricanes has always bothered me. Giving something a gendered name to familiarize us with something we don't understand and to potentially decrease the feeling of a threat is unsettling. Does a hurricane need a name? Does a hurricane need a gender? Weather forecasters refer to hurricanes as "she" or "he" depending on their given name, and I have previously seen yet-unnamed tropical storms or depressions referred to as "she" as a default (I'm not even sure what this implies).

Are we not scared enough of the idea of a storm this size? Are we too scared? Is it okay to comfort ourselves by humanizing storms or is that wrong or dangerous to us? I don't know.

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Smacholdt's picture

This is so interesting. I've

This is so interesting. I've always wondered where the tradition of naming hurricanes came from 

et502's picture

naming and gendering

I understand the need to use names (short names are quicker, easier to use,  less subject to error than the "older, more cumbersome latitude-longitude identification methods;" this allows for better communication across different networks - NHC), though I agree that this certainly can make a storm seem less intense than it actually is. It's like Hagrid naming a 3-headed monster dog, "Fluffy."

However, I also find the tendency to ascribe a gender to a storm system to be problematic. According the National Hurricane Center, this practice started in Australia in the 1800's, and became more regulated in the US in 1953. "The practice of naming hurricanes solely after women came to an end in 1978 when men's and women's names were included in the Eastern North Pacific storm lists." But the tradition of speaking about storms with uses of female pronouns lives on. I found this article, "Please Don’t Call Hurricane Sandy a “She,” especially useful. The author, David Baker, ran a search on articles with different gendered pronouns:

  • “Hurricane Sandy and her”: 2,130 search results. Examples include “her rampage,” “her spiraling formation,” “her swell,” and “her whirlwind of trouble.”
  • “Hurricane Sandy and his”: 0 results.
  • “Hurricane Sandy and its”: 9,910 results. Examples include “its gargantuan hype” and “its potential to become a ‘Frankenstorm.’”

He writes a bit more about feminization of things (countries, cars, nature) that we are unfamiliar with.

So, I guess what I'm saying is: yes, we need names, even if it does minimize/humanize the effect of the storm. But, if we're going to continue this practice, we need to be more aware of the effects: we need to breakdown the reason why we tend to use female gender more. Perhaps one way would be to practice using non-gendered pronouns more widely, so as to call attention to spaces where we tend to use "she."

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