Call it meteorological sexism. A study conducted by researchers from the University of Illinois and Arizona State that was released on Monday suggests that Americans are less intimidated by hurricanes with female names. The team looked at death tolls of hurricanes in the United States from 1950 to 2012 and concluded that "female" storms had significantly higher casualty rates, indicating that people were more laissez-faire when anticipating a "girly" tempest.
"People imagining a 'female' hurricane were not as willing to seek shelter," said study co-author Sharon Shavitt in a statement. "The stereotypes that underlie these judgments are subtle and not necessarily hostile toward women—they may involve viewing women as warmer and less aggressive than men."
The study excluded statistics from hurricanes Audrey and Katrina, as these numbers would have dramatically skewed the data. Nevertheless, the researchers' decision to begin with storms after 1950 has led certain critics to question their methodology. Jeff Lazo, of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, told USA Today that hurricanes only began getting male names in the late 1970s, by which time there were already advances in emergency protocol.
"It could be that more people die in female-named hurricanes simply because more people died in hurricanes on average before they started getting male names," Lazo said.
Lazo also pointed out that the study data included indirect deaths, such as fatalities that occurred during the post-storm cleanup, which clearly had no bearing on the "gender" of the hurricane.
Given the enormous number of factors—from economic to geographic—that influence a population's preparation for an impending storm, it does seem dangerous to attach too much significance to a hurricane's arbitrarily bestowed moniker. Nevertheless, the psychological influence of a threatening name shouldn't be underestimated.
Laura Wattenberg, creator of BabyNameWizard.com, has suggested naming all future hurricanes Voldemort as a public safety measure.