The Historical Hurricane

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.

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4 Replies to “The Historical Hurricane”

  1. Additional thought, after clicking on the Huberty link: Remarkable how those guys (all guys) fade from memory so quickly. Whitman, Speck, Harris & Klebold, Furgeson — those are the ones I can immediately link to a specific spree. The rest, it’s a case of clicking on the name and giving it the ol’, “Oh, yeah, that atrocity that rocked the nation’s soul for a few hours.”

  2. In order:
    –Yep: KH.
    –I think our reaction to the mass killings has changed in some way. When the Whitman incident occurred, it was a national shock and people were shaken for a while. Now, “going postal” has long since become a joke. Incidents like Columbine show that the capacity for shock and outrage are still there, but it’s almost like it takes something really over the top that people haven’t thought of before to have that kind of impact. Timothy McVeigh. Waco (incident of a different nature — but think about it). 9/11.

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