by Jeffery Racheff

The only thing worse than a storm that wants to destroy humanity, is a storm that wants to destroy humanity that’s named after you.

Call up any random Katrina in the phone book and you’ll know what I’m talking about. Before you can say “FEMA,” they’ll regale you with stories of how they run into all sorts of people with “wet and wild” jokes, or of how their flood insurance is 300 times higher than their neighbor’s, or how their lives have been haunted by the hurricane that stole their thunder. Then you will begin to ask yourself the same question I have pondered all these years…

Why name storms after people? Why subject them to the guilt associated with having the same name as one of Mother Nature’s most destructive forces?

The reason, according to the National Hurricane Center, is practical. It turns out storms cause a lot of confusion, so the use of short, familiar names makes it easier to transmit storm information with less chance of a mix-up. This makes sense in a world where there may be multiple storms moving through different parts of the globe at the same time.

But that also means a savvy parent nowadays has to keep the NHC’s list of future storm names in their RSS feed, just so they don’t end up with kids named after Armageddon. Otherwise you might turn out like this poor guy: a 58-year-old German man recently won the chance to name a storm (I guess that’s how they do it over there), only to watch his suggestion, Xynthia, become the worst natural terror France has seen in a decade. “I wanted the name to be used maybe once on the weather forecast and then to fall into oblivion,” he said. Talk about a parent’s guilt.

So, to save future Andrews and Katrinas (and their parents) from storm scorn, wouldn’t it be more appropriate to use the names of deadlier, non-human things, like germs or wild animals? I think “Hurricane Hyena” or “The Ebola Cyclone” are far more likely to speed up evacuations than Hurricane Ike.

Then again, maybe we need to personify storms. Calling a hurricane Christopher or Genevieve allows us to take out our anger on it as if it were an actual person. Plus it helps us focus on something that isn’t so abstract and scientific. Rather than having to explain the meaning of  “tropical depression H-10.09-k-soaker cat. 3,” it’s always just been easier to yell “Get Out of the way! Trixie is coming!”

The truth is, storms (unlike earthquakes or tornadoes, which we rarely see coming) only get names so we can identify them BEFORE they wreak havoc, not after — they are preventative measures. So if you happen to share the name of a particularly deadly storm, accept your modern day martyr status. Just think of all the lives that would have been lost without you.

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