Hurricanes have been taking up a fair bit of news space lately, and probably keeping more than a few folks awake at night wondering if they remembered to make that last insurance payment on their beachfront condo.
Here in Ohio, tornados are the big deal when it comes to wind. Of course tornados don’t get named—mainly, I suppose, because they can crop up literally in minutes, whereas a hurricane is born out in some bit of tropical sky above the vast blue sea. There’s just not time to name a funnel cloud when you’re running for the basement.
With tornados, weather watchers have time to notice them, time to watch them grow like smudgy malignancies on their maps, and time to track them as they begin skulking toward various islands and coastlines. It makes sense to give them a name, if for no other reason than simply to avoid confusion, since several storms with hurricane potential are often spawned over a short period, thus appearing on the map simultaneously.
Still, seeing as how even the nearest saltwater coast is located hundreds of miles and a long day’s drive from here, I never worried personally about a hurricane heading toward the Gulf Coast or Atlantic Seaboard. Then Hurricane Ike came along last fall, made landfall in Texas on September 13th, and arrived here—in Ohio!—the following afternoon. Ike’s devastating passage through the Miami Valley left thousands of trees down, buildings flattened or their roofs in a nearby corn or soybean field, and more than a million households statewide—and over 300,000 in my local area—without electric power. Some folks didn’t have their power restored for well over a week afterwards.
You know what…I still don’t take hurricanes seriously—and I blame this lack of respect, first of all, on the World Meteorological Organization, or whichever committee voted back in 1979 to begin using men’s, as well as women’s, names for storms. Now before I offend anyone who thinks this a sexist attitude, let me say my feelings likely arise because I was raised up during the era when hurricanes and tropical storms were all named after women.
Hurricanes have been given names for hundreds of years. Often, in countries familiar with the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar, they were named after the saint on whose namesake day they appeared. Here in the United States, we used to simply designate storms by latitude and longitude, their “name” being that specific location point on earth where they were born. This was a rather clumsy and difficult to use methodology. During World War II, meteorologists began naming storms after women. Being a Boomer Baby, that’s what I grew up hearing.
It’s not that I view women as temperamental and dangerous. Honest. We all know men, as a class, are way more filled with hot air and way more apt to break wind. I just think of storms in the feminine—the same way I think of ships in the feminine. An admitted prejudice, but one fondly rooted in compliment.
My real problem not just that we now use a male name for every other storm—but with the men’s names we seem to choose. Just when did we get so cozy with hurricanes that we began calling them by their more friendly masculine forms?
Consider last week’s Hurricane Bill. Bill? For a storm you’re supposed to take seriously? Come on! William the Conqueror sounds serious, menacing; Bill the Conqueror just doesn't have the same ring. If a hurricane is going to march ashore and blow my house down, I want it to have a name befitting such potential. Aren't hurricanes still serious and menacing?
I heard the weather folks warning about Hurricane Bill and immediately remembered that old Motown classic by the Marvelettes…"Don't Mess with Bill." Which, in case you’ve forgotten, is a song about A GIRL TRYING TO PROTECT HER MAN! If he'd called himself William, he probably wouldn't have needed his girlfriend's help. Thus Hurricane Bill sounded like a pretty wussy storm to me.
Now we’ve got our eye on Hurricane Danny. Okay…I know, Danny is still a Tropical Depression. Well, I’d be depressed, too, if everybody insisted on calling me “Danny,” like some little freckle-faced kid. Hurricane Dan sounds a bit better; Hurricane Daniel is almost Biblical. I’d probably watch out for any hurricane named after an Old Testament character.
I’m rather sorry to report Tropical Storm Claudette, who came between Bill and Danny, sort of fizzled out on a Florida Panhandle beach. But I don’t give any credence to the rumor that with her dying breath, Claudette whispered something to the effect, “there are no manly storms to be found in the Atlantic anymore—just innocuous boys.”
Hurricane Danny reminds me of Danny and the Juniors—yup, there’s that Boomers musical connection again; I just can’t help myself—whose hit single, “At the Hop” came out in 1957. They weren’t quite One-Hit Wonders, since they also had a minor hit with “Twistin’ USA” in 1960. But at best they’re a footnote in Rock & Roll early history.
In looking over the storm name list for 2009, the men’s names yet to come are: Fred, Henri, Joaquin, Larry, Nicholas, Peter, Sam, and Victor. Nope, sorry guys…these names still aren’t doing it for me. Attila, Hannibal, Vlad, Geronimo—now those are men’s names with a ring of intimidation.
Okay, you say, but didn’t last year’s visitation by Hurricane Ike’s aftermath show you that Boy Toy storms ought to be taken seriously? Isn’t there a contradiction here?
Not at all. While I can just remember “I Like Ike” buttons from grandfatherly Dwight D. Eisenhower’s second presidential campaign, I certainly remember 1971’s “Proud Mary,” by Ike and Tina Turner. Everybody knew that ol’ Ike had a mean streak and was prone to violence…just ask Tina.
My mistake was forgetting to remember the song!