Does a Storm's Gender Impacts Willingness to Evacuate?

As if naming hurricanes weren't already complicated enough, a new study suggests that the gender of a storm's name may impact if people are willing to evacuate. Except, it's probably not that simple. Read on for a paper-summary, then head over here for a critical analysis of the research's limitations.

Tl;dr? Statistics are complicated to do properly, and disasters are thankfully rare enough that it's hard to separate out all the confounding factors. The names might influence responsiveness to evacuation orders, but so do a whole lot of other things, name-related and otherwise.

The sociology of getting evacuation orders to be obeyed is complicated — single mothers are more likely to obey a female voice; First Nations groups may need to hear from their Chief before they'll leave; the elderly are less likely to obey a youthful Emergency Manager; the list goes on and on with a lot of tenuous connections.

Or, get that summarized with a hilariously-grumpy graphic here.

Today in Misandry - Lady Hurricanes Kill More People

Man hurricanes (Himicanes, am I right guys?) don't kill nearly as many people as hurricanes with female names. And the reason is quite simple: misandry - the male hurricanes are are nagged by their female counterparts until they snap and go on a transatlantic rampage.

Oh. Wait. No, that's just misogynistic blathering. Turns out the real reason is misogyny, not misandry. More people die in hurricanes with female names, the Washington Post reports, because people don't take them as seriously as threats as they do hurricanes with male names.

(Pictured: Hurricane Katrina, not being taken seriously)

Now, this is somewhat absurd sounding on the face of it. Hurricanes are weather phenomena, people. The names are just for show and so it's easy to keep track of them for the public. They didn't even get official names until the 50s, and male names didn't get added in until 1979 (hurricanes, like humans, apparently begin gestation as functionally female and develop from there, I guess).


Turns out that if you use even more strongly gendered names for the hurricanes, the effect increases - macho himicanes are prepared for and expected to be super risky, while the daintiest and most frail lady hurricanes are expected to be, well, a breeze. Jason Samenow elaborates:

Female-named storms have historically killed more because people neither consider them as risky nor take the same precautions, the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concludes.

Researchers at the University of Illinois and Arizona State University examined six decades of hurricane death rates according to gender, spanning 1950 and 2012. Of the 47 most damaging hurricanes, the female-named hurricanes produced an average of 45 deaths compared to 23 deaths in male-named storms, or almost double the number of fatalities. (The study excluded Katrina and Audrey, outlier storms that would skew the model).

The difference in death rates between genders was even more pronounced when comparing strongly masculine names versus strongly feminine ones.

Now, we could just name the hurricanes after letters, and avoid the whole issue. But the current system lets us retire names if they're particularly major storms. 53 names have been retired since 1979's inclusion of male names, however, which is just over two alphabets worth. So maybe letters aren't the way to go. Gender neutral names? Might be the next step, actually, if it helped encourage safety.


The National Hurricane Center reminds people that hurricanes are massive storm systems that are deadly and that they should prepare for every one of them. That kind of Vulcan logic might work on people who are thinking rationally, but this is sexism. It's not rational. We either get rid of the sexism or we change the system that allows it to proliferate. Trying to apply logic and say "hurricanes are dangerous regardless of the gendering of their names" doesn't cut it.

There's one man, though, who questions whether this sexism really hurts all that much.

Bill Read, a former director of the National Hurricane Center from 2008-2012, isn't convinced the gender of the storm name is as big a factor in storm fatalities as the study purports.

"While necessary to eke out the gender difference, it leaves me with the need to know is this factor significant, or is it very minor in the mix of all other societal and event driven responses," Read said.

You tell 'em, Bill. It's probably just minor. Sexism's like a cough - it's not going to kill you, the hurricane will. It's not like the cough's actually a problem, except for the times it is. It's uncomfortable, for starters, and people generally don't like being around you when you are coughing. Seriously, though, regardless of how significant or minor it is, if there's a possibility that stupid, retrograde attitudes about gendered names might be causing people to die, it's probably worth changing the system to stop that and have one fewer problem in that "mix of all other societal and event driven responses" people have.

This study is really cool because it reveals a whole lot of things to think about. Like who knew people did this? Maybe we should change things so they can't. What other weird ways do people justify not preparing adequately for a storm? How does this intersect with other factors which might reduce risk of death? Maybe we need to step up how we reach people and say "Hey! You! Get out! Hurricanes can kill you!"

But hey, people are sexist about weather phenomena. And in a way which categorically demonstrates how sexist attitudes are often like coins: one side hurts men, the other women, and nobody wins. That whole women are meek and weak thing (and its corollary: men are bold and strong) doesn't really help anyone.

You know what can, though? Taking hurricanes seriously regardless of their name. And maybe writing the World Meteorological Organization and suggesting they revise their protocols for storm naming.

Image Credit: MIT