Sunday, June 1, 2014

What's in a (hurricane) name?

When I was a kid hurricanes had female names, giving rise to a joke I read in Boy's Life: "Why do they name hurricanes after women? Because there's no such thing as a himacane."

This changed in 1978 with the first male names used for Pacific tropical storms and the following year for Atlantic/Gulf of Mexico storms. Bud became the first masculine Pacific tropical storm but never reached typhoon status. He only lasted three days before being downgraded to a tropical disturbance, a veritable girly-man storm.

Hurricane Bob in 1979 was the first testosterone-laced storm on this side of the Panama Canal. Not to be confused with his son, Hurricane Bob of 1991, the elder Bob did, nonetheless, pack a punch as he landed at Grand Isle, Louisiana (pronounced Looz-e-anna by non-New Englanders) as a Category 1 cyclone with sustained winds of 75mph.

Since then, tropical storms have included both male and female names which are on a six-year rotating schedule. The most destructive storms' names are retired so as not to confuse historians, such as the younger Bob and Katrina (2005). Of the 53 Atlantic/Gulf names retired since equal opportunity naming started, 28 have been male.

This year's Atlantic lineup has a few interesting twists:

Arthur - "A" names rarely turn into devastating storms because they are early in the season, but Hurricanes Andrew and Alicia prove that any of these storms can be dangerous.

Bertha - She sounds like a big storm. Would you rather be facing Hurricane Tina or Hurricane Bertha?

Cristobal - Columbus' Spanish name. Seems like a natural to wander into the West Indies.

Dolly - What can I say? Singer or sheep?

Edouard - Widely known for his important role in the transition from realism to impressionism.

Fay - What was I saying about Tina?

Gonzalo - Googling his name turns up a lengthy list of soccer players. Definitely a Gulf storm.

Hanna - Could be the first hurricane to make landfall in Butte, Montana.

Isaias - First name of the president/dictator of Eritrea, the birthplace of the most recent Boston Marathon winner.

Josephine - Napoleon Bonaparte's main squeeze, at least until she went on a spending spree while he was busy trying to conquer Egypt.

Kyle - Kyle Field is an 83,000 capacity stadium at Texas A&M. The area is served by TV station KYLE. Definitely a Texas-bound storm.

Laura - A common name that could be infamous, like Diana, Irene or Sandy.

Marco - Polo.

Nana - This is what our grandchildren call my wife. Is this really a name?

Omar - O=Oh, as in "Oh my!" Mar=Sea in Spanish. Fitting.

Paulette - Like Josephine, this is really a man's name, like Bobette, Davidine, and Hankaphine.

Rene - Guy or girl? Why not Hurricane Pat?

Sally - See Laura.

Teddy - Could be the largest hurricane ever.

Vicky - Is this a coincidence?

Wilfred - We'll never get to Wilfred. That's why they picked it.