What’s with monster storms and female names?

It is yet another season when the winds get stronger, the storm rages and tropical cyclones threaten and literally force people out of their homes. Like many other powerful storms, Hurricane Florence, which started as a powerful Category 4 storm with winds over 130 miles per hour has been named after a woman.

A tropical cyclone is a rapidly rotating storm characterized by a closed low-level atmospheric circulation, strong winds and a spiral arrangement of thunderstorms that produce heavy rain. Depending on its location and strength, a tropical cyclone is referred to by different names including a hurricane.

Prior to the late 19th century, hurricanes were traced by year but later on, that began to change. Names were being adopted, and it was believed that this was done to reduce confusion in situations where two or three hurricanes are active at once. But while do the power ones get female names?

In 2017, of the 17 hurricanes that occurred, more than half (9) were feminine, 5 masculine and the rest were unisex. Even, of the remaining 4 names selected for hurricanes in 2017, 2 were feminine, 1 unisex and the other masculine. Each year, 21 names are chosen in alphabetical order by the World Meteorological Organization.

Why female names?

The idea of using solely female names began in 1953 in the United States and lasted for 26 years up until 1978 when both gender’s names were included in the Eastern North Pacific storm lists. By 1979, the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico comprised of male and female names. However, the female names still dominated the list.

It wasn’t until women liberation bodies began protesting the sexist nature of naming in the late 1960’s that the adoption of both names was accepted. The National Organization for Women at its national conference passed a motion for the removal of female-exclusive names to National Hurricane Center in Miami.

However, much has not changed, at least perception-wise as there is a gender bias with hurricane monikers. Many people underestimate women and some even consider them weak and as such, they feel less threatened by female names than male names, according to a study. Meanwhile, female hurricanes are deadlier.

The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season was a hyperactive and catastrophic hurricane season that damaged things worth a total of at least $282.16 billion. It was the costliest tropical cyclone season on record and the deadliest since 2005, with over 3,000 estimated deaths. Ongoing hurricane Florence is considered a monster storm, with US East Coast residents fleeing as the storm might hit the region as soon as Thursday evening. Airports in the path of the storm are also canceling flights. The National Weather Service (NWS) said Florence “will likely be the storm of a lifetime for portions of the Carolina coast.”

Coincidentally, the 2005 hurricanes had 13 female names, two unisex names, one unnamed and three male names. Since the year witnessed more than 21 storms, the additional storms are given names from the Greek alphabet. The deadliest of 2005, Hurricane Katrina killed at least 1,245 and has a total property damage estimated at $125 billion.

Why should Africa care?

Many of the worst hurricanes begin at the coast of Africa. A good number of the Eastern Pacific tropical cyclones that hit the United States originate from tropical waves coming off Cape Verde in Africa.

Sometimes these storms gets big and spin out into the ocean over the islands in the Atlantic and down to America but it rarely hits African countries directly.

Although it does not affect Africa directly, hurricanes and tropical cyclones that usually begin in the Caribbean or the Atlantic and cause severe damage to the United States of America are examples of how Africa’s contribution to global warming affects the lives and properties of people in another continent.

An average of 5 and 15 tropical cyclones make landfall on islands and continents each year. However, Sub-Saharan Africa experiences at most one every few years. This is partly because most of the South Indian Ocean tropical cyclones make landfall on Madagascar and never reach the main continent.

In February 2017, however, tropical cyclone Dineo was predicted to affect South Africa’s Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces after moving across Mozambique. The storm affected more than 650,000 people in Mozambique, and also destroyed more than 2000 homes and businesses. Nearly 1,000 classrooms and 70 health centres were destroyed.

“Hurricanes are absolutely being affected by our changing climate, in many ways. As the world warms, the rainfall associated with hurricanes is becoming more intense; they are getting stronger, on average; they are intensifying faster; they are moving more slowly; and, as sea level rises,” notes Katharine Hayhoe, a climate researcher at Texas Tech.

An analysis, from America’s Stony Brook University’s Climate Extremes Modeling Group also found that Hurricane Florence is likely to dump 50 percent more rainfall in the heaviest precipitation bands than it would have without the human-caused increase in greenhouse gases. It is also about 50 miles larger in diameter than it would have been. Natural disasters like this reminds us of the need to be more committed to reducing global warming.

The Atlantic hurricane season officially begins on 1 June and ends on 30 November. These dates historically describe the period of the year when most tropical cyclones form.