Science and Health

Do Hurricanes With Female Names Kill More People?

A new study says feminine-sounding hurricane names make people less cautious, but some scientists say the study has a glaring flaw.

Do Hurricanes With Female Names Kill More People?
Flickr / NASA

Which storm would you think is more deadly — Hurricane Victor, or Hurricane Victoria? Well, according to a new study, it might be the more feminine-sounding one.

A new study from researchers at the University of Illinois says that hurricanes with female names have, on average, been more deadly than their male counterparts. (Via The Weather Channel)

The study appeared in the peer-reviewed Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and looked at 94 hurricanes that occurred in the US between 1950 and 2012.  

The findings suggest that changing the name of a storm from the masculine Charley to something more feminine such as Eloise could nearly triple its death toll. (Via NOAA)​

One of the co-authors of the study wrote in a statement that people imagining a "female" hurricane would be less likely to seek shelter, highlighting subtle yet dangerous gender stereotyping when it comes to assessing risk.

A writer at Vox listed off some of the potential uses of the findings of this study including only giving hurricanes male names, getting rid of the naming scheme all together, using genderless names or simply giving deadlier hurricanes more masculine names.

But there are some other researchers who have taken issue with study's findings.

National Geographic spoke with a social scientist and economist who thinks the pattern is more likely a statistical fluke due to hurricanes only having female names up until 1979: "Trying to suggest that a major factor in this is the gender name of the event, with a very small sample of real events, is a very big stretch.”

And a researcher at Cornell University told The Washington Post that the name of a storm is just one of the many non-weather factors that can effect how people make decisions concerning dangerous weather: 

"The focus on the gendered names is one factor in the hurricane communication process, but ... evacuation rates are influenced by many non-weather factors such as positive versus negative prior evacuation experiences, having children, owning pets, whether a first responder knocked on your door to tell you to evacuate."

That's not to say all researchers were against the study though. USA Today interviewed a hurricane expert for WeatherBell who said that "meteorology needs more of this (higher quality) interdisciplinary work."

And NPR spoke with the creator of a popular naming site who suggested "choosing names that really pack a punch" such as "names of villains or markers of fear and evil to get people to act."

Currently, hurricanes are named years in advanced by the National Weather Service using a list of arbitrary and alternating female and male names from the World Meteorological Organization.