You're More Likely to Die From Hurricanes With These Names

November 4th 2015

Taylor Bell

A recent study finds that more people die in female-named hurricanes than male-named hurricanes because people judge the severity of a storm based on the gender associated with the name of the hurricane, the Washington Post reports. People perceive female-named hurricanes as less of a threat and thus, will not prepare adequately for those impending storms.

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Excluding Hurricane Katrina, the study from the Proceedings of the National Academy examined the death dolls for 47 of the most damaging hurricanes in America and found that female-named hurricanes produced an average of 45 deaths compared to 23 deaths in male-named storms—almost double the number of fatalities, according to the Washington Post.

Coney Island destruction after Hurricane Sandy

"People imagining a 'female' hurricane were not as willing to seek shelter," said co-author of the study, Sharon Shavitt. She explained:

"The stereotypes that underlie these judgments are subtle and not necessarily hostile toward women - they may involve viewing women as warmer and less aggressive than men."

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According to the Washington Post female names have been used to identify hurricanes since 1950. Male names were not introduced into the process of naming hurricanes until 1979.

And despite the noble intentions of meteorologists, the study and the study's authors are suggesting a change in practice.

"Although using human names for hurricanes has been thought by meteorologists to enhance the clarity and recall of storm information, this practice also taps into well-developed and widely held gender stereotypes, with unanticipated and potentially deadly consequences. For policymakers, these findings suggest the value of considering a new system for hurricane naming to reduce the influence of biases on hurricane risk assessment and motivate optimal preparedness," the study said.

As strong of a case that the study presents for changing the practice of naming hurricanes based on gender, other people in the meteorology community and other researchers aren't fully convinced. Such people include the past president of the American Meteorological Society, Marshall Shepherd, who isn't eager to pull the plug on associating hurricanes with gender names just yet.

"I am not ready to change the naming system based on one study," Shepherd said. "But it may be one more indicator that thinking exclusively about physical science is not enough in 2014 and beyond to save lives."

Also, Gina Eosco, a researcher from Cornell University's risk communication group, reminded audiences that there are quite a few other factors that influence the urgency of people's response to hurricanes. Eosco told the Washington Post that evacuation rates are also determined by "having children, owning pets, whether a first responder knocked on your door to tell you to evacuate, [and] perceived safety on your home."

Regardless of the name of the hurricane, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control Center and Prevention suggests that it is better to prepare ahead of time before a hurricane actually occurs near you.

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