Meteorologists Should Look to the Theater for Naming Storms

The National Hurricane Center began naming tropical storms in the Atlantic Ocean in 1953. Meteorologists say naming these storms helps people remember them, helps make communication about the storms more effective and, ideally, helps people stay safer when a storm makes landfall.

The lists of hurricane names now is generated and maintained by the World Meteorological Organization. Names are chosen well in advance of hurricane season. In fact, the National Hurricane Center’s website has storm names for every year through 2027.

Therein lies an issue.

Names are assigned in alphabetical order to storms as they appear. The problem with this is the names rarely reflect the storm’s personality.

Unimportant, you say? Well, if the purpose of naming storms is to help people remember and communicate about them, it only makes sense to give storms more descriptive names.

For example, a Category 5 hurricane is barreling down on a heavily populated area with car tossing, house crushing force. Its name is Marty.

Marty. Marty? No. No. No. No. No.

Marty is not a tropical storm name. Marty is a nice guy name, a tropical depression that winds up saving your lawn by dumping a few inches of rain on it. Marty is an Oscar-winning 1955 film featuring a standout (and Oscar-winning) performance by Ernest Borgnine as, well, a nice guy. Named Marty.

Javert. That’s a storm name: Hurricane Javert, like its namesake, the police inspector in Les Misérables – is determined, relentless and oblivious to the damage it’s doing.

Or Hurricane Sweeney Todd, named for the razor wielding barber-murderer from Steven Sondheim’s 1979 musical – angry, bloodthirsty, flat-out psychotic, out to wreck some coastline and anything nearby.

Or Audrey II. The demanding and carnivorous space shrub from Little Shop of Horrors would devour large swaths of coast in a single bite.

Sadly, neither Javert, Sweeney nor Audrey made the list this year. Fortunately, the WMO also chose a handful of names associated with real-life and fictional villains:

Bonnie: Bonnie Parker was the partner in crime of Clyde Barrow. The pair’s bloody trail of murder and robbery ended in 1934 with a police ambush. Hurricane Bonnie would churn in the Gulf for days before heading ashore with all guns blazing. The duo were the subjects of songs and films but they didn’t make it to Broadway until 2011. Sadly, it was a short stay. Bonne & Clyde, a musical, closed after four weeks.

Gaston: The Beauty and the Beast villain morphs from pompous buffoon to murderous creep over the course of Disney’s cinematic and theatrical retellings of the 18th century French fairy tale. Hurricane Gaston would slowly but steadily gain strength by consuming smaller, weaker storms until it was a swirling mob of meteorological violence.

Richard: Historians are divided over Richard III’s true nature. Shakespeare’s tragedy Richard III, though, portrayed him as callous and Machiavellian, and that characterization has been reinforced in cinema by Laurence Olivier’s classic 1955 version as well as Ian McKellen’s menacing portrayal in the 1995 version. Based on that, Hurricane Richard would be the storm that trampled over other storms to ensure that it and it alone would rule hurricane season.

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