Two new storms — Philippe and Rita — have come to life. Next on the list would be Stan. Stan, the casual hurricane. Of course, there’s not much in these storm names. The relaxed-sounding Mitch (1998) spawned a disaster in Central America that in many ways dwarfs the impact of Hurricane Katrina.
There’s all sorts of documentation about who chooses the names and what the names are. The basic principles in naming are first to create a universal reference for forecasters and other officials and second to personify the storm in a way that makes the phenomenon concrete for the public. However, I haven’t come across any explanation of how the actual names are picked — how Mitch or Stan make it, for instance, and Mikhail and Shlomo don’t. Mostly it’s the desire to keep the names short and sweet and familiar.
But do you want a storm to sound friendly? I mean, Katrina had previous connotations for me that made it easy to imagine the storm as an awesome and potentially destructive force of nature. But Stan? What does that bring to mind? Stan Laurel. He might get you into trouble with the wife, but how much real damage could he do?
Which is why I’ve always (privately, until now) advocated a system that uses names of particularly destructive people — anyone from big-league despots down to well-known criminals. Hurricane Stalin. Hurricane Huberty. That way, you could convey the potential menace of tropical cyclones and deliver a history lesson at the same time.