Does a female-named storm impact evacuation? Researchers at the University of Illinois and Arizona State University believe they do. In a study published in the June Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers looked at death rates from 94 Atlantic hurricanes that made landfall in the United States from 1950 to 2012.  Of the 47 most damaging hurricanes, those with female names resulted in an average of 45 deaths compared to 23 deaths from male-named storms.  Excluded from the study were Hurricanes Audrey (1957) which killed 416 and Katrina (2005) with a death toll of 1,833 because their high death tolls skewed results too heavily.

Kiju Jung of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and colleagues noted, “Feminine-named hurricanes vs. masculine-named hurricanes) cause significantly more deaths, apparently because they lead to lower perceived risk and consequently less preparedness. Using names such as Eloise and Charlie for referencing hurricanes has been thought by meteorologists to enhance the clarity and recall of storm, information. We show that this practice also taps into well-developed and widely held gender stereotypes, with potentially deadly consequences.”

In naming storms, the National Hurricane Center follows a strict process established by an international committee of the World Meteorological Organization. Naming hurricanes began in 1950 and only female names were used. In 1979 male names were introduced.  Storm names are recycled every six years. A name is taken out of the rotation if a storm is especially deadly or costly.  Over 70 storm names have been retired, including Audrey, Andrew, Katrina and Sandy.

The study has sparked discussion about social and behavioral factors when people make decisions to evacuate or stay in place for a threatening storm.  If you spent hours in traffic the last time you evacuated for a storm, you may be inclined to stay in place the next time an evacuation is called. If your home was not damaged by previous storms, that may influence your decision to evacuate.

Whether you perceive a male-named hurricane more of a threat than one with a female name, being prepared is your responsibility.  Take the steps now to be prepared. Check out the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) guide.

Sandra Cordray and Denise Danna are co-authors of the book, Nursing in the Storm: Voices From Hurricane Katrina. Read more from them on our blog or check out their title "Nursing in the Storm: Voices from Hurricane Katrina".