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Hurricane Names

June 16, 2014

Feminine hurricane names may lull people into inadequate preparations.



The hurricane gender effect.  I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Could gender bias affect hurricane preparedness?  That’s a question raised in a new report by University of Illinois behavioral scientist Sharon Shavitt.  In a study launched by her student Kiju Jung, her team found that historically, the more feminine a hurricane’s assigned name, the higher the death toll – even excluding two extreme cases, Katrina and Audrey.  Then in the lab, they presented people with hypothetical information about impending hurricanes.

SHARON SHAVITT (University of Illinois):

And we found consistently that when people imagined being in the path of a female-named storm, they felt it was less risky, it was likely to be less intense, and they seemed less motivated to evacuate.

The findings have already attracted some controversy, but the effects were strong – suggesting that giving a severe storm a very feminine name, compared with a very masculine one, could nearly triple its death toll.  I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.