Saturday, August 29, 2009

HURRICANES, HIMICANES, AND ROCK & ROLL

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!

21 comments:

Jenn Jilks said...

I'm with you on the affectionate names. Short forms just don't work.

Bill, really. I think, like the kings, when they find a great name they should be able to use them again. Hurricane William the terrible, the third!

Then there was a hurricane Josephine (my granddaughter's name!) which we watched with interest.

And tornadoes... well our just flew out of the sky. Not enough time to name it! What we found, in My Muskoka , was cooperation and a community that worked together to clean up.
Thoughtful post!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Jenn…

Yup. Give 'em names that cause you to pay attention, not chuckle. Cowboy names.

Tornados are wham-bam-thank-you-mam storms. No time or need for a name.

Bernie said...

Hi Grizz didn't you know they had to start using "man" names as most women's names had already been used and those that were available had already been named "Saints"....
that's right....LOL
Talk with you soon....:-) Hugs

Anna said...

...and we got some unexpected tornadoes in our area, scary because who would know that we would get hit...and these days no body takes all the weather stuff seriously, because everyone wants to be a star and photograph...me NO NO I run....great post thanks for sharing your hurricane thoughts...Anna :)

Rowan said...

The bit about about Bill the Conqueror made me laugh :):) I don't think that being caught in a hurricane would make me laugh though nor would being in the path of a tornado. I agree that hurricanes should have names that make you pay attention - Hurricane Sam doesn't sound awfully threatening does it? It's one of the real advantages of in living in the UK - we don't get the real extremes of weather nor do we have volcanoes or earthquakes - at least, we get very, very minor earthquakes occasionally but most people don't even notice them. We did get the tail end of Danny on Wednesday of last week - it rained really hard!

Jayne said...

It is rather odd, isn't it? The scroll lines at the bottom of the screen with the line "Bill sweeps 12 out to sea".... I mean, Bill seemed like such a nice guy.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Bernie…

I'm not actually sure why they switched to an every-other-storm masculine name. Women's Lib? Equal Rights? Nomenclature Cowardice? But now they have six lists of male and female names which they rotate through, year after year—the same names over and over. They only "retire" a name if the hurricane was damaging enough to leave bad memories and a certain degree of devastation: Hurricane Katrina, for example. That means they might have to come up with one or two new ones for a given year…which is maybe about their capacity for naming, especially considering how poorly they seem to be at it.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Anna…

Tornados I take sorta seriously (I've been through a one and really close to several). I also could get into storm chasing, running around seeing and photographing tornados. But worrying about "Hurricane Lester" is just not quite manageable for me.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Rowan…

No, hurricanes can be serious—which, in my own loopy way, is why I think their names ought to be chosen to fit the potential. Yeah, I know, a name is just a name—after all, serial killers have regular names: Sam, Ted, Charlie.

But "Hurricane Woody" is still going to make me flash on Woody Woodpecker every time.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Jayne…

He did, didn't he? Who woulda thunk ol' Bill had it in him? :-)

KGMom said...

I think it's the potential for name exhaustion that led to the change. No doubt you have googled to see how far out the names are selected. Combine that with the fact that really big storms have their names retired--I think Donna is off the list (whew). There will never be another Katrina, nor Agnes (Pennsylvania's brush with a hurricane in 1972). So, that may be part of why the weather folk turned to men's names.

Gail said...

Hi Grizz-

I liked when hurricanes were only named after women - I actually felt proud!! :-) And I also agree that nic-names are so lame.

Bill (William) missed us - we just got a glazing with some rain and minimal wind. I remember some fierce ones though - Gloria for instance!!!!

Well Grizz - always nice to visit here -
Love you
Gail
peace......

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

KGM…

I really don't know the reason behind the naming change to include male names—although I do suspect it was an early forerunner of political correctness.

There are literally six list of names, already chosen, which keep being used one after another. Thus 2004's storm names are identical to 2010's, 2005's will be repeated in 2011, and so on. Storms which cause major damage get their names retired; that accounts for maybe a couple per year.

I really can't imagine they think they'd run out of names; more like they just got lazy. Or simply lacked creativity.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Gail…

Glad to hear Hurricane Billy missed you.

I'm also glad to have read your birthdays/anniversary post. I hope you had a great time and celebration.

And by the way…you're not a visitor here, you're family.…

Gail said...

Hi Grizz-

thanks, I like that word - family. yup, like it indeed. It feels very nice to think of myself and you as family.

Love you
Gail
peace......

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Gail…

I didn't say it without meaning it, you know. :-)

Carolyn H said...

Griz: I don't mind men's names for hurricanes even if it should be spelled hericane. But I agree that names like Danny and Bill don't do the storms justice. Vlad is much better. Even if Vlad fizzled in the Atlantic, we'd still breath a sigh of relief. I just can't picture a storm named Danny amounting to much. Sounds too much like an 8-year old.

Carolyn H.

Gail said...

Grizz-

I do know, I absolutely do. :-)

Love Gail
peace.....

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Carolyn…

Yup…Hurricane Vlad would have me watching the weather channel. Hurricane Barney would have me whistling the theme from Mayberry. Don't think you could really get into a serious hurricane party afterwards, either.

Jenn Jilks said...

New hurricane, Griz! Jemina...and there is a Kevin.

Maybe 'Bill' wasn't so bad after all! :-)
William the Conquerer, glad Rowan liked that!!!!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Jenn…

Thankfully, Jemina and Kevin are someone's else's storm name embarrassment, being Northern Pacific storm names. The next on out Atlantic storm names are, in order: Erika, Fred, Grace, Henri.

Now, here's the real ringer for those West Coast folks…should the season last long enough, one of their names down the list is Waldo! Besides all the "Where's Waldo?" headlines, would you really want to have to put up with property damage from a storm named Waldo?