Although the two recent hurricanes have passed into meteorological history, millions in Texas, Florida and elsewhere are still dealing with the misery — yet the situation can be viewed in a somewhat lighter vein at this point.
For starters, where do the names of these hurricanes come from anyway?
If indeed you subscribe to the theory that everything must be named, like we do a dog or a cat, then I guess it’s OK to assign some moniker to a hurricane or tropical storm. After all, people give names to their boats by painting them on the sides, and famous airplanes have been called the Spirit of St. Louis or the Enola Gay.
So in a culture infatuated with names for inanimate objects, it’s not much of a stretch to assume the same should be done with hurricanes.
The question is, when it comes to these major weather events, what’s in a name?
It always has amused me (excluding the accompanying loss of life and destruction, of course) that hurricanes with the wimpiest names always bring the greatest calamities.
Take Hurricane Harvey, for instance. Now first let me say there are many great guys named Harvey out there and I do not want to insult any of them or their well-meaning parents for designating that name for their sons at birth. I have even known some Harveys, all extremely nice people, which is exactly the point.
When I think of “Harvey,” an image pops up of a slender fellow wearing a cardigan sweater and smoking a pipe. I certainly don’t think of somebody with that name being in a bar fight or playing middle linebacker for the 1985 Chicago Bears. (Now there was a linebacker for the Cardinals and Redskins named Ken Harvey, but as you can see that’s his last name and not the first.)
So then we have “Hurricane” Harvey, which wreaks havoc in the Houston area and causes billions of dollars in damages. I could see such a tragedy being unleashed by Hurricane “Lance” or Hurricane “Brock,” but Harvey? Give me a break!
The same goes for Hurricane Irma, who did her thing with Florida right on the heels of Harv’s handiwork.
Here again, when I think of the name Irma (once more, no offense to you Irmas out there), my mind conjures up the sweet little old schoolmarm, or a librarian with her hair in a bun covered by lace.
Now given this sedate Irma image and the corresponding mayhem occurring, you’d think the recent event striking Florida would have been named Hurricane Helga or at the very least Athena or Diana (the name of Wonder Woman).
This is not just a recent phenomenon. Look at Hurricane Katrina, which no one in Louisiana or anywhere else for that matter will ever forget even though it happened nearly a dozen years ago.
In my mind, Katrina is the blonde-haired young lady in pigtails who brings you a big mug of Lowenbrau in a Munich beer garden while wearing an even bigger smile. Certainly not the name of the costliest natural disaster and one of the five deadliest hurricanes in U.S. history.
While trying to make sense of this naming business, I immediately tasked the Research Division here at The Mount Airy News (Messrs. Google and Yahoo) to find out how such contradictions occur.
As it turns out, the naming of tropical storms and hurricanes has been going on for centuries, with major weather events once named for saints.
Today the process involves a sophisticated, but basically spontaneous, system assigning multiple lists of various names, including six lists for tropical cyclones, 21 names for Atlantic storms and 24 others for eastern North Pacific storms. These annual lists are used on a rotating basis. For example, the one for 1997 was again pressed into service in 2003.
I also found it interesting that names designated for past hurricanes have been retired if those events caused many deaths or tremendous damage. Among those on this list are Andrew, Bob, Camille, David, Dennis, Elena, Fran, Frederic, Katrina, Hugo, Ivan, Opal, Rita, Stan and Wilma.
This just further proves my point about gentile names being linked with some of the worst hurricanes, especially in the cases of Camille (befitting a French supermodel) and Wilma (wasn’t she a character on “The Flintstones?”).
The only ones on the list which strike real fear are Hugo and Ivan, and I think there is enough empirical evidence to believe that the toughest-sounding names generally equal the lesser hurricanes and vice versa.
For instance, who remembers hurricanes Bertha (1996) or Bret (1999)?
So if you hear a warning about Hurricane Vlad coming down the pike, never fear. But if there’s a Hurricane Reginald, run for the hills!
Tom Joyce is a staff writer for The Mount Airy News. He may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.