Thursday, August 24, 2000

Who picks wimp names for storms?




By LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        How can we trust world weather experts with global warming when they cannot handle even the simplest job? I am speaking, of course, of the very inappropriate names of natural disasters.

        Hurricane Debby?

        That sounds pretty chummy for something that might blow your house down. She should be Hurricane Deborah, at the very least. Something more menacing. Or powerful. How about Hurricane Oprah? Or Tropical Storm Barbra?

        Capricious. Majestic. Destructive. (Marge. Sigourney. Monica.)

        And it's not just the girls. We have been asked to batten down the hatches for Floyd and Felix.
       

Bureaucratic name game
        Blame the World Meteorological Organization, WKRC-TV's Steve Horstmeyer told me. It's a UN agency based in Geneva.

        But who are they really, Steve?

        “I think it's a bunch of bureaucrats who sit around a table.”

        Aha. A committee. Just as I suspected.

        “Storms are named in the language of their area of origin.” This is how we came to have Hurricane Georges and Tropical Storm Pablo. The typhoon hatched east of the Philippines was named “Damrey,” the Cambodian word for elephant. A future typhoon is to be called “Long Wang,” which is Chinese for “dragon king.”

        At least that is what they claim.
       

Bad-tempered Bob
        Each geographic list alternates male and female names, rotating alphabetically. The name of any storm of historical significance is never used again.

        Bad-tempered Bob, who dropped in for afternoon cocktails on Cape Cod in 1991 bringing 100-mph winds, and Gloria, who assaulted the eastern seaboard in 1985, are among 42 that have been retired between 1954 and 1995.

        The worst storm in New England's history is called simply the Hurricane of 1938. And the strongest hurricane on record to strike this country was the Labor Day hurricane of 1935, which beat up the Florida Keys.

        The bureaucrats were not officially assembled for either of these deadly storms. Otherwise, I am afraid they would be named for Playboy bunnies or hall monitors.

        The World Meteorological Organization didn't come along until 1950. At first, the names it picked sounded like what police groupies hear over their scanners — Abel, Baker, Charlie and so on.

        Then in 1953, it started using female names. The storms were all girls until 1978. Storms don't get a name at all until sustained winds are stronger than 38 mph, and tropical storms are upgraded to hurricane when they log winds of 74 mph.

        This is a big wind, wouldn't you agree? Destructive. Expensive. Deadly. Hurricane Andrew did about $27 billion in damage and caused 58 deaths in Florida and Louisiana in 1992.

        So I'm just saying the World Meteorological Organization should show a little more respect. There's still time to change the current wimpy lineup, which includes Leslie, Patty and Sandy.

        Right now, there's a storm making her way toward the U.S. mainland. So far, Debby hasn't done much damage. But she could still turn mean. If so, there will be the inevitable hard-liners who refuse to leave home.

        Maybe they'd get out of her way if Debby sounded more like a threat and less like a snack cake.

        E-mail Laura Pulfer at lpulfer@enquirer.com or call 768-8393.

        PULFER ARCHIVE