Hurricanes with Female Names More Destructive, Study


Hurricanes with female names are more destructive than those with male monikers, according to a University of Illinois study.

Researchers said that people think windstorms with female names will be less deadly and therefore, fail to take adequate safety measures, leaving them more vulnerable.

"In judging the intensity of a storm, people appear to be applying their beliefs about how men and women behave," said study co-author Sharon Shavitt, a professor of marketing at Illinois, in a press release. "This makes a female-named hurricane, especially one with a very feminine name such as Belle or Cindy, seem gentler and less violent."

For the study, researchers analysed death rates in U.S. hurricanes in more than six decades. Hurricane Katrina (2005) and Hurricane Audrey (1957) were excluded because they were more vicious than a typical storm.

The researchers found that casualties were higher in storms that had more feminine names. For example, changing a severe hurricane's name from "Charley" to "Eloise" can triple its death rate.

The researchers also surveyed participants about hurricanes with fake names like "Hurricane Alexandra" or "Hurricane Alexander." The participants scored the female-named storms as less perilous.

The researchers said that some gender stereotypes are definitely playing its part in people's mind or they might just perceive men to be more violent.

Kiju Jung, a doctoral student in marketing at the College of Business and the lead author of the study, said that names to severe hurricanes are assigned randomly.

"The problem is that a hurricane's name has nothing to do with its severity. If people in the path of a severe storm are judging the risk based on the storm's name, then this is potentially very dangerous," Jung said.

In the upcoming Atlantic hurricane season, researchers cautioned people to look out for storm names like Dolly, Fay or Hanna.

The finding is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Jeff Lazo from the National Centre for Atmospheric Research doesn't agree with the findings of the study. Lazo said that past hurricanes always bore female names and there can be other reasons as to why hurricanes are fatal and why people do not adequately protect themselves.

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