A Further Exploration of Names and Hurricanes

Feminine-named hurricanes are more deadly than ones with male names. According to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, and repeated again and again by news sources looking for an easy story, this is because female names create expectations about severity levels and the need for evacuation.

Specifically, feminine-named hurricanes are seen as less likely to be severe and dangerous because of stereotypes around women, the study suggests. As a result, people do not evacuate and there is a higher death rate because of it.

This study has, since its publication in 2014, been questioned due to certain procedures the researchers used, including doing little to control for storm severity, which has nothing to do with the name. These are picked out years in advance. However, the fact remains that male-named storms still do have fewer deaths on average, and it’s an interesting concept to explore in the context of Roach and Blood Dazzler.

As all things come back to Roach, I’d like to start off by discussing him- though we will return to him at the end of the post.

Roach introduced the idea of performance and the ways people either choose to perform or are conscripted into performance. I’ve discussed this idea in earlier posts, but it’s one that continues to fascinate me and one that I always seem to be able to explore further. In this context, the performance is that of the name of the hurricanes, specifically the gender.

Clearly, the gender of a hurricane name affects the actual conditions of a hurricane by zero. In fact, until 1979, hurricane names were generally female, much in the vein of sailors naming their ships after women. However, the important thing is people’s perceptions of the storm.

A name is a kind of conscription into performance. It sets expectations that people inevitably believe will play out into reality, despite evidence otherwise, as mentioned by Christina in her last blog post. As such, the use of feminine names evokes societal constructs around what women are “supposed to be like.” These stereotypes are soft, docile, nonviolent, even sensual (further discussed later)- precisely the opposite of a hurricane. Male names evoke the opposite- rage, violence, and other stereotypes of manliness. I do not condone these stereotypes and think they are outdated and simply not true, but we as a society have not yet moved on from them, but I digress.

Because of this, I was somewhat bothered when reading the first poems of Blood Dazzler, a collection of poems about Hurricane Katrina. Patricia Smith characterizes Katrina as a seductress. In “5 P.M., Tuesday, August 23, 2005,” Smith writes “…every woman begins as weather, sips slow thunder, knows her hips…” and goes on in this vein. It feels as though Smith trivializes Katrina by characterizing the storm in this way, feeding into that performance of stereotype that makes feminine-named storms more deadly. Hurricanes are incredibly destructive and violent, a brute force- not a temptress that seduces a city into ruin.

“Violence is the performance of waste,” writes Roach (I did promise we would return to him). It feels as though this accidental byproduct of giving hurricanes both feminine and masculine names is a form of violence. Waste is unintentional, and the violence is caused by the performance encoded in the names. We can do better, whether it be moving on from outdated stereotypes, avoiding the perpetuation of those stereotypes, moving to a different naming system- I don’t know the answer, but I do think that the waste caused by the current state of affairs is unnecessary.

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