Superstorms as Celebrities
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”
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.
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?