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Superstorms as Celebrities

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You may remember this iconic storm spiral. Her name is Superstorm Sandy. She hit landfall off the East Coast on October 29, 2012, destroying countless homes and businessess in the tri-state area, causing water damage, fires and power outages that continue to impact areas of Long Island, Brooklyn, Manhattan, The Far Rockaways, Breezy Point, Queens, shoreline New Jersey and Staten Island. Sites like Postcards Post-Sandy, Sandy Storyline and Occupy Sandy continue to chronicle the aftermath of the storm, long after the news cycles have moved on. The impact of social media’s effectiveness in creating new resources and hubs of services is exemplified in the efforts of Occupy Sandy, a grassroots organization which emerged out of the Occupy Wall Street movement. The effectiveness of Occupy Sandy’s use of social media and on-the-ground communications and coordination has proved a gamechanger in disaster relief and distribution. See the New York Times article, “Occupy Sandy: A Movement Moves to Relief

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The year before, in 2011, another spiral named Irene, a tropical cyclone that surged inland waterways in upstate New York and Vermont, coursed through the interwebs, with a satellite photo etched on the collective memory.
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And in 2005, Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans, destroying homes, sending thousands into refugee existence, and causing at least 1,833 fatalities. A visit to the now-leveled Ninth Ward demonstrates just how long-term the impact of this cyclone has been. A 2008 Academy Award nominated documentary, “Trouble the Water,” tells the story of the breakdown in social and city services when thousands were displaced by breached levees in the storm surge. It includes dramatic footage shot by a woman living in the Ninth Ward, who used her video camera throughout the events as she escaped to her attic during the flood.

The award-winning HBO series, “Treme,” has created five seasons of interwoven narratives studded with music performances telling the story of New Orleans’ continued post-hurricane recovery. Katrina is featured prominently in the title sequence of the show:

Due to the obvious effects of climate change, these notorious storm “celebrities” remain part of the discourse, anthropomorphizing the impact of global warming. The practice of assigning female names to storms became standard after World War II (see History.com), and in 1979, due to feminist critique, weather reporting began to alternative the use of male and female names. Just two years ago, the Weather Channel began naming all storms, including snowstorms, with this explanation:

The decision to begin naming storms came about as part of The Weather Channel’s program to find the best possible ways to communicate severe weather information on all distribution platforms, including social media.
Hashtags are an intrinsic part of social media, and a storm name proved to be the best way to efficiently and systematically convey storm information.

This winter featured mythic names for white-out weather systems including Atlas, Boreas, Senece, Titan and Ulysses. Yet these names did not become part of the snowman vernacular the way Superstorms Sandy, Irene and Katrina did.

What do you think about the practice of naming storms? Does it improve our understanding of climate change? Does it help us to remember the impact of certain storms and track them in real time? Or does it trivialize nature’s primordial forces?




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  1. Deisy

    I like that storms have “regular” names. I agree that it helps when it comes to communicating. I remember when I was here for Sandy and you could just search that hashtag and see live pictures, tweets and even where electricity was down. Even now, the name itself, reminds us of what happen.

    If we had some other kind of name or just refer to storm by numbers, it would be way harder to keep up and share the information. I think the simpler a hashtag is the easier to share and it doesn’t get easier than a name.

  2. SeungMi Kim

    I agree that the practice of naming storms is completely successful in enhancing our understanding of climate change as well as storm information. When I first realized that those storms and hurricane like Katrina, Irene, and Sandy were called like actual people’s names, I was really wondering why they were named in that way, but reading through this article made me realize what a great idea it is. Calling those storms by such female names, Katrina, Irene, and Sandy, which we are familiar with, helps us both call and remember those storms easily.
    Despite the fact that I was neither damaged nor hurt by those storms even while New York City was hugely hurt by Irene and Sandy, I can remember what happened during the time period when I hear the name. I can also immediately think of the day when our first day of the fall semester got canceled due to the hurricane Irene in 2011, and this tells me how names of such storms and hurricane are powerful so that it becomes iconic. Those familiar names of storms are very easy to remember, and our awareness to climate change, weather information, etc. is stimulated with our ability to easily remember issues and information. As this article claimed above, naming storms helped us efficiently share weather information through the mass media forms.

    • Kathleen Sweeney

      Seungmi, Where were you living at the time these storms took hold? And what was it like to witness Sandy once-removed? For me as a New Yorker, the effects were more immediate, even though my own living space was not affected. Same with Irene. A friend’s house in the Lower Hudson Valley was hit by a boulder dislodged from a stream and three years later is still renovating…what is our connection to storms that take place far from our geography now that Google maps and global reporting link us immediately, with Twitter often reporting on extreme weather before mainstream news catches onto the story…? For example, the Tsunami that surged to compromise the nuclear power plant at Fukushima in Japan was at a distance for those of us on the East Coast of the United States, yet this disaster continues to have global impact with the plant still leaking radioactive materials into the Pacific Ocean. Extreme storms, extreme weather impacts us all as global citizens…yet are we making the connections or only reacting when Sandy hits close to home?

  3. Ben Ruhland

    Naming super storms like Hurricane’s, Tornadoes and Cyclones after commonplace female gender names is at one, catchy and easy to remember. It also takes the biological aspect out of the devastation and makes is media friendly. Just as the graffiti plea read; it also makes it punchier to reference.

    It’s been so long since I’ve heard of a male name given to a great storm that I did not realize that it is alternated. I WW2 men also named bombs after their wives and girlfriends. I’m with Roxcy Bolton in her view that it seems to assume that female names coincide with chaos. The naming does allow for media venues to flash the name, like Katrina so that it will resonate a deeper meaning. With this catchy go to naming tactic, yes it does make assist in remembering the impact, but only because it is catchy and easy. If Katrina had been named Bobby, for example, it would’ve managed to remain in our thoughts just as much. I think that a date or a cultural event that was taking place around the time that they hit should name storms. Katrina could have been called Treme or the

  4. Kristin Ferrandino

    I agree with Ben; although I am a staunch feminist I was never offended by the naming of storms. My parents own a home in Neponsit (a mile stretch in Rockaway,) which they were living in when Sandy hit. They lost two complete floors of the three-story home. Since I don’t live with my parents, the use of the hashtag definitely kept me up to date on what they were going through at the time… without it, I would have had no idea what was going on. It was helpful in terms of power outages, water shortages, damage, massive fires, and complete destruction. I went to help out with a few of my friends about a week after the storm hit and spreading awareness about what occurred was key. If it wasn’t for Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram especially, I do not think people would see nor understand the magnitude of what occurred.
    I read the following article a while ago after the storm and wasn’t surprised by its tellings. Awareness is very important, even if some see it as exploitation.
    http://www.poynter.org/latest-news/mediawire/194323/instagram-breaks-records-during-hurricane-sandy/

    • Kathleen Sweeney

      Kristin, Thanks for mentioning the article on Poynter.org…a great resource! You also mention the role of social media in storm reportage which has been a gamechanger for connecting information to the hub of data and resources, especially in times of disaster, when cell phones are often the only form of communication (to that end, a solar powered charging station has recently been installed in The Rockaways)…The #Sandy hashtag on Instagram was used over 430,000 times on October 30, 2012….amazing. If you or anyone else has a story or photo about Sandy they’d like to upload to Postcards, Post-Sandy, (another blog I curate) please feel free to do so! There are several hundred posts so far…with plans to expand in collaboration with some other online archives…

  5. Evyenia Constantine

    I have often wondered about the naming of storms. How did they pick them, who picked them, and why. My viewpoint of the naming is along the lines of Ben and Kristin. I do think that the names of the storms get seared into our memory. If I close my eyes, I can see the names Katrina, Irene, and Sandy in huge red letters in a news crawl. It’s the way I first remember hearing about them. I understand that the names make it easy for people to hashtag and research, share on social media. I wanted to find out why female names were chosen and I found this article: http://www.livescience.com/8579-hurricanes-named.html
    In it, it is explained how in the 1800’s, storms were named after the saints that were honored on the day that the storm occurred. Hence, on July 26th, 1825—–Saint Anne’s day—the hurricane that took place was named Santa Anna. Apparently, there is a rotating list of storm names that are at the ready. The names have to have a sort of global appeal because the storms will not solely have damage in the United States. If a name gets used, it cannot be reused, but the first letter of that name goes back into rotation. It sounds like a lot of consideration takes place in order to name a storm. I always feel bad for people who have the name of one of the tragic storms as it is happening.

  6. Emily Spierer

    I think that the practice of naming storms does make it easier for people to stay informed about severe weather that is approaching, as well as making it easier to discuss the aftermath of such an event/natural disaster. However, I didn’t realize that only recently had the naming of storms been alternated between male and female names. While this says a lot about our society and the progression towards equality for all, I still think that naming storms is a positive thing. Just as Ben said, I think that naming storms allows people to discuss these natural disasters in a more “media friendly” way, and lessen some of the devastation when discussing the topic.

  7. Yoon Hee Song

    As the article mentions about how effective of using storm names in communicating severe weather information with the society through all distribution platforms, I agree that the practicing of naming storms is much easier to recall than remembering it by its time of occurrence. I could definitely remember Sandy because she affected my place and I had to live without the electricity for a week. but if I were to recall the exact date, I would not be able to remember it. Since those names are only after the super storms, it could raise awareness of how powerful it is to the society and people would know the seriousness of climate change.

  8. CLAUDIA SAEZ DE LA FUENTE

    I think that the practice of naming the storms is a good one, as it not only makes people conscious about it but the fact that people who are not knowledgeable when it comes to meteorologic terminology are able to spread the word and make more and more people aware of what is happening and what is it that they need to do to prepare themselves for this type of situations. It also helps you track the movement and what is happening with the storm. Giving the people a name to be able to Google or search by a hashtag helps you being able to see and know what to do and there is a sense of preparedness.
    When Sandy hit New York, it was something that I had never experienced, however due to the fact that it had a name I was able to go on different social media and see what parts of the city where working which weren’t as well as what services were functioning. It also promoted a sense of community as those who were displaced and had no water or electricity or even a home were able to know where to go to get supplies. This not only helped nationally within the US but it also helped internationally as people all over the globe were becoming aware of the situation and were able to send help to those areas that needed it most.
    I also feel as because this natural disasters have a name they are more present in the lives of the citizens and also it is harder to forget. The name brings with it a memory of the time of when it happened and it makes you realized that the devastation and destruction does not only last for the news cycle but that it is something that takes very long time to get over and rebuild. Therefore overall I think that the naming of the natural disasters is a positive thing as it makes the human brain to retain more information as well as helps us communicate better and have a better sense of what is happening and preparedness.

  9. Paloma Urquijo

    I wouldn’t say it helps improve understanding of climate change, but I do definitely think it helps with awareness of the incoming storm as well as clarification for reference later. For example with sandy, people started photoshopping photos of characters from pop culture named sandy following the path of the actual storm, now while this was a lighthearted take on the situation it became this media craze and soon everybody knew what sandy was and people started to educate themselves on the storm and took precautions. This word of mouth while intended to be funny was actually helpful as it reached so many people. Naming the storm makes it more personal and makes it easier for people to communicate about it. Also I think people are more likely to remember where they were or what destruction ‘SANDY’ caused as opposed to ‘that storm a couple of years ago.’

  10. Lia Ferguson

    I will never forget Hurricane Katrina, Sandy and Irene. If they weren’t given a name I think I’d still remember, becauseI would have probably named these events myself. I find myself reminiscing about people I’ve encountered when I step foot in different places. I can smell the smells I used to smell and feel what I use to feel emotionally in that space, and so I think putting a name on something makes it that much more real. Hurricane Sand happened and it changed the minds and hearts of a lot of people here in NYC. Some thought we’d never experience something so severe, because it has never happened in their life time, or generations before. It made me cherish the days I have because life is just as creative as we think we are. New things happen everyday, and although Tuesday is always Tuesday, the third day of a new week, now two Tuesday’s are the same. I hope that made sense, and with that being said, no two hurricanes are the same either. Naming these events brings an authentic, realistic and tangible feel to the event at hand. I know some say they wont consciously forget a face, but sometimes forget a name, but in naming superstorms celebrities, it is most certainly the other way around.

  11. Juyeon Jung

    I was one of the SANDY victims; I lived in Wall Street, in lower Manhattan in 2012 so I still remember how disastrous the hurricane ‘Sandy’ was. I saw the hurricane approaching to the area around Battery Park, and had to deal with every minutes. It was so scary. I thought I would die in my apartment because the whole district was inundated with water. I had to bear in the fearful situation for about two weeks with no power, no water, no food and no electricity. All the residents could evacuate after all, and I lost my home for a long time. Since my apartment was flooded, it took almost two months to get restored.

    Recalling the time of hurricane ‘Sandy’, I get traumatized by experiencing natural disaster. Whomever I tell this tragic story to, they just go “Oh, Sandy!” Yes, all I have to say is “I went through Sandy.” They just know how serious the hurricane was without any explanation of mine. Practicing of naming natural disasters really helps people to understand of climate change. And of course, people do remember its catastrophic consequences and victims. As one of victims, whenever I hear the word ‘Sandy’ from someone, I get curious what they are talking about. Well, I feel sorry for people who has those names, but practicing of naming storms really works in this world.

  12. JAE CHAN PYO

    The weather in Korea is similar to New York City. There are four seasons, almost the same temperature, and has few hurricanes coming every year. I am one of the people who have been through many hurricanes. Every time a hurricane comes, there was always a name for that hurricane. It made me curious on why and how the names are given to the hurricane every time it occurs. Reading this article, it was interesting to learn how these things were made when the hurricane comes,.

    The name making of the hurricane may give the people easier to remember it so it may make them feel more alerted when it has approached. Furthermore, by making the people able to remember the histories in the past more clearer, people can come up with the memories from past and make more effort on getting prepared for it. However, one of my concern is that since hurricane brings such a traumatizing result to people, it would be bad for the people who actually have those names. For example, since hurricane Sandy was horrific, it would give the victims trauma when they meet a women named Sandy. Many Asian hurricanes are named after animals and non-human related names, and I believe it would be better for it to do that.

  13. Priyanka Paul

    Living in India most of my life I was not aware of storms having names and I found it quite interesting and I always wanted to know why they do but never got around to doing research about it. After reading this article I did some research about why storms are named. I found out that only tropical cyclones such as hurricanes are named by forecasters to avoid confusion when following the details of different storms. I also discovered that naming storms started in 1950 and that forecasters named storms according to the alphabet starting with a until z and then starting over. Women names started being used in 1953 and now male and female names are alternated. I remembered when sandy occurred I was upstate with family friends and the electricity was out for almost a week and about 10 of us sat in one room and played games. During that week I realized how depended we are on technology we were all bored out of our minds after the first day or so. Even though there was not much damage in the area we were in, hearing about people’s homes being destroyed was so scary. I met someone recently who lives in the area I live in now. He lived on the first floor during Sandy and he told me about how when he came home after the warning had subsided his furniture had floated from end of the apartment to the other. It was so scary to hear these stories and live through the storm itself. I think storms like Sandy being named definitely gives more impact to it as we all relate it to something and remember instances that we all went through. I am sure it is convenient for forecasters to follow storms when they are named, but I think it also helps us remember the impact of them better.


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