As the nation celebrated the Fourth of July, Hurricane Arthur dropped rain and threatened destruction.
But people still went to the beaches. Nathan’s annual hot dog eating contest commenced on Coney Island, albeit it with windbreakers and umbrellas. People stocked up on water and batteries but didn’t really get the heck out of Dodge.
Why? Because the moniker Hurricane Arthur doesn’t engender a whole lot of trepidation. Ooooh! Look out, here comes Arthur! Arthur is going to get you! Beware Arthur! Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue through teeth chattering with dread.
Arthur is a lovable but bumbling drunk played by Dudley Moore. Arthur is a great uncle with slightly off-color jokes. Arthur will not flip your car and fill your kitchen with water. Arthur will instead give you peppermint candy or maybe a martini.
And it’s not just Arthur. None of the tropical storms, hurricanes and weather-related disasters really sound ominous until after the fact when streets are trampled, houses leveled and lives destroyed. That’s when Katrina and Andrew become not just the names of the nice people down the street but forces with which to be reckoned.
A recent study claims that feminine-named hurricanes are actually more deadly than their male counterparts because they don’t sound as dangerous and therefore people don’t bother to prepare as much or make a run for the hills. Of course, the study did throw Hurricane Katrina with its 1,800 deaths out of the average because it was considered an anomaly. Even so, the researchers pretty much concluded that if you want to get people to hustle, when naming the storm, opt for Christopher rather than Christina and Patrick over Patricia.
Studies aside, the real problem is that both male and female names just don’t deliver that immediate shocking alarm that nature ain’t messing around.
Instead, we need names that scream plague and apocalypse and horsemen and locusts and biological warfare all wrapped up in a box of hurt and slipped into a bag of game changer.
Those charged with picking the names need to shake up the current guidelines and go with labels that already invoke fear or at least a seriousness. Hurricane Anthrax, for example. Nobody is sticking around to see what happens when Hurricane Anthrax blows into town. Ebola is another possibility. Or, in a throwback to 1980s medical paranoia, Tropical Storm AIDS. However, avoid going with Hurricane Legionnaires. Few really know what that is and might just think a gigantic group of civic-minded veterans is about to descend on a convention center.
Or, forget diseases and go straight for names that can’t be confused with their viral and bacterial counterparts. Hurricane Annihilation. Typhoon Chernobyl. Cyclone Doomsday. If these names don’t make one realize that the weather experts are not kidding, at least perhaps they might inspire the titles of upcoming video games.
Mythological creatures are a little less terrifying sounding but they are another possibility. One might start packing up the minute the forecaster announced that the Kraken has been unleashed.
For purists who still insist that human names are the way to go, perhaps a gentle suggestion to opt for people who few would confuse with warm and cuddly. Ceausescu is a bit of a mouthful but there are plenty of others dictators from which to choose. Grab the children, here comes Tropical Storm Stalin! Batten down the hatches. Hurricane Hitler is on its way!
Words have power and when it comes to forces of nature, we need identifiers that sell them as the potential perils they are. One exception is naming a catastrophe after retired Army Gen. Schwarzkopf of Persian Gulf War fame. Who wouldn’t appreciate bracing for Stormin’ Norman?
Michelle Durand’s column “Off the Beat” runs every Tuesday and Thursday. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or (650) 344-5200 ext. 102. Follow Michelle on Twitter @michellemdurand What do you think of this column? Send a letter to the editor: email@example.com