With Hurricane Sandy, which you might know better as the Frankenstorm, pounding the East Coast, it got us thinking about the weird practice of naming hurricanes after people. It was odder still in the not-too-distant past, since from 1954 to 1979, hurricanes only received ladies’ names.
The practice started with the advent of the National Weather Service (which was then called the National Weather Bureau). The service was started by military meteorologists (yes, that’s a thing) after the end of World War II. They named them after the military phonetic alphabet (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, etc.). Needless to say, that was a bit boring and repetitive, so the NWS adopted an older, informal practice among meteorologists to name storms the same way people name their cars, boats, guitars, and guns — after women.
It took years of complaining by influential feminists to get the National Weather Service to play fair, since, as it turns out, a lot of women didn’t really like being compared to devastating natural disasters.
But weirder still than the whole idea of giving a unique identity to a giant pocket of low air pressure with high winds whirling around it is the fact that the most devastating hurricanes get their names “retired.” Yes, just as you’ll never see another Chicago Bulls player don the number 23, we’ll never get hit by another hurricane named Katrina or Isabel.
And that’s really weird, right? It’s like we want to honor certain storms as “all-time greats.” I’ve got this weird mental image of jerseys hung in the rafters of the National Weather Service offices.