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Why Hurricanes with Female Names Are More Deadly

Author Nicholas DeRenzo

factHell hath no fury like a female hurricane scorned—or so recent research suggests. Kiju Jung and his colleagues at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign collected data from the 94 Atlantic hurricanes that made landfall between 1950 and 2012 and found that, even excluding particularly deadly outliers like Katrina, female-named hurricanes have proven about three times as deadly as their male counterparts. Jung’s hypothesis? Call it meteorological sexism. According to his study, published this summer in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, unconscious biases may cause us to subliminally personify named storms, leading us to perceive “male” ones as stronger and more violent and “female” ones as weaker and less threatening. As a result, we prepare less diligently for the female ones. To test the theory, Jung presented a group of students with hypothetical hurricane names. As predicted, participants reported that they’d be more inclined to evacuate and prepare when faced with, say, a Hurricane Victor rather than a Hurricane Victoria. Ironically, the system of coed naming was devised in the late 1970s as a curative measure for decades of outright chauvinism: In those pre-PC days, all hurricanes had been named for women to symbolize their unpredictability.

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