In the wake of hurricane Sandy’s unexpected and unprecedented wreckage of the Northeast and the reckoning that there are more storms to come, the general response to the October tropical cyclone ought to be examined. The average New Yorker and New Jerseyan blithely reacted to Sandy’s approach. Many refused to evacuate and later had to be rescued. Others took mid-storm dog walks amongst falling trees. The behavior, informed by inexperience and hubris, proved a naive understanding of Sandy’s sinister gravity. But it also revealed the World Meterological Organization’s ill-conceived and ominous-ness-less naming system.
Centuries ago, Caribbean nations named hurricanes after the daily saint of the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar on the day the storm struck. So if a hurricane struck Barbados on 27 June, it would be hurricane St. Samson. This system bestowed upon the storm a premonitory aura. Before the current naming system was adopted, hurricanes were titled according to their geographic coordinates–a method that proved difficult to remember. After WWII, US meteorologists–in typical post-war misogyny–began to name storms after women. It wasn’t until 1979 that Atlantic storms were masculine and now alter alphabetically between male and female titles. But the names bequeathed to contemporary, gender-conscious hurricanes lack the intimidating convictions they deserve. Some of the worst storms in history are misnomers: hurricane Fifi left 10,000 dead in Honduras, Bob cost New England billions of dollars in damage and Gilbert blew record 185 MPH winds. Where are the hurricane Voldemorts? The Pol Pots and the Himmlers and Kardashians? With Sandy bearing down on them, Americans don’t panic–they hum Grease.