In 2005, I spent Labor Day with little knowledge of the hurricane that had just hit New Orleans.
The next day at work, I listened to the radio. The topic on Sept. 4 was Hurricane Katrina. I can still remember New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin explaining the disaster over the phone to Power 105.1-FM disc jockeys.
He spoke about everything the country did wrong and everything his city had to overcome.Katrina will always have a dark meaning to those who lived to know her fury, if only over the radio.
As the two-year anniversary of the most destructive storm in contemporary American history passes, one question I can’t get off my mind is why it’s necessary to give hurricanes names at all. Why can’t the National Weather Service describe it as “the hurricane in New Orleans”?
“It’s easier to talk about a storm that’s out in the ocean if you have a name to attach to it instead of just calling it a generic hurricane,” said Eric Horst, the director of Millersville University’s Weather Information Center.
That’s it? It’s just easier to give devastating storms human names?”It also helps gain public attention and media coverage,” Horst added.
That’s crazy. How could that be it? I looked through the Internet. I looked everywhere. The only other thing I found was that naming a weather
system helps meteorologists avoid confusing them if more than one storm is going on at one time.
But there has to be a better way. Why a name?
“I just find it unacceptable,” junior
Nasreen Razzaq said. “I think I would be devastated if a hurricane had my name. There is so much to call them by. Call them by fruits, by cars, by buildings – just something else.”
This naming process has not been going on forever. Hurricanes were not given female names until 1953. In 1979, the NWS stopped targeting just ladies and changed the system to include males. This method, which goes alphabetically, alternates male and female names.
“There’s actually five or six lists of names cycled through every five or six years,” Horst explained.
“This year’s first storm was Andrea,” he said about the subtropical storm that hit the southeastern part of the U.S. in May.
“Then the second storm had to be ‘B’. Barry.”
Think back to Hurricane Katrina. Within days after one of the deadliest hurricanes in American history, the “Hurricane” part of the name seemed to have dropped. Katrina was causing the destruction, which meant that those named Katrina were left feeling uneasy.
“It just kind of made me feel uncomfortable being associated with something so devastating,” junior Katrina Santiago said.
“I feel like I lost a tad of my own identity after the hurricane.”
But it’s not only those named Katrina who are feeling the effect. There is a list of 55 names that have been retired from being used to name a storm: the names that were already used to label the storms that were considered the worst of the worst.
Senior Andrew Mobarak was only six when his name made the retirement center after Florida’s 1992 hurricane, America’s second most costly hurricane behind Katrina. He is not too bothered at this point, but he said he still wishes his name had not been used for such a catastrophe.
Those named Katrina may continue to deal with their grief in their own ways.
“I still get, ‘Katrina like the hurricane?’ when I say my name,” Santiago said. “I hate being consistently associated with it.”When I worked at Walgreens, a lady burst into tears when she looked at my nametag. She had moved from the [New Orleans] area [to Pennsylvania], and she started venting and blaming me for the tragedy. For the next three months, I was forced to wear a different nametag.”
And that’s not the way it should be. It should be storms wearing different nametags, not people.
Jeff Appelblatt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org