Female Hurricanes Are Deadlier

Katrina. Irene. Sandy. Hurricane names help to make public safety messages memorable, but new research shows that the choice of name may influence how people react to evacuation orders. Although the World Meteorological Organization assigns the storms alternating male and female names (recent Pacific hurricane Amanda is pictured), historical records show that those with more feminine names had higher death tolls. Could people be avoiding evacuation because they assume that female-named storms will be gentler? Researchers tested this idea with written scenarios that described an upcoming storm and asked respondents how dangerous they expected the storm to be and whether they would follow a voluntary evacuation order. No matter which names they used—Victor/Victoria, Christopher/Christine, or selections from the upcoming hurricane name lists—respondents who read about male-named hurricanes judged them as riskier and said they would be more likely to evacuate than people who read about hurricanes with female names, the investigators report online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. For example, fictional Hurricane Danny rated an average 2.1 on a 1 to 7 scale where 1 represents “certainly will follow” evacuation orders. Its counterpart Hurricane Kate only rated 2.9. The researchers say that this may reflect an “implicit sexism” that gets in the way of understanding and responding to public safety messages. A new naming system perhaps based on animals or objects may be in order, they suggest—and perhaps we should stop referring to hurricanes as “he” or “she.”

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