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Hurricanes With Female Names Have Been Deadlier

Researchers aren't sure why, but suggest people don't prepare for storms perceived as feminine
(*this news item will not be available after 08/31/2014)

By Randy Dotinga
Monday, June 2, 2014
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MONDAY, June 2, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- If an oncoming hurricane has a female name, it may be time to take storm preparations seriously.

That's because hurricanes with female names seem to be deadlier than those with male names, according to new research. That finding held true even when Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans in 2005, was taken out of the equation.

The researchers don't have any conclusive explanation about why hurricanes with female names are deadlier. It could simply be coincidence. However, the researchers wonder if people may take hurricanes less seriously if they seem feminine.

"Names are assigned arbitrarily, based on a predetermined list of alternating male and female names," said study lead author Kiju Jung, a doctoral student in marketing at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, in a statement provided by the university. "If people in the path of a severe storm are judging the risk based on the storm's name, then this is potentially very dangerous."

Researchers studied death rates from hurricanes that reached land in the U.S. over the past six decades and found evidence that people prepare less for storms with feminine names. The study deliberately left out two particularly deadly storms: Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Audrey in 1957 because those large storms had the potential to skew the results.

The researchers found that when it came to highly damaging storms, death tolls for those with female names were almost three times higher than for those with male names.

"In judging the intensity of a storm, people appear to be applying their beliefs about how men and women behave," said study co-author Sharon Shavitt, a professor of marketing at the university, in a statement.

"This makes a female-named hurricane, especially one with a very feminine name such as Belle or Cindy, seem gentler and less violent," she suggested.

Hurricanes in the United States were only given female names until the 1970s when weather officials began switching between names of both genders.

The Atlantic hurricane season begins June 1 and ends Nov. 30.

The new study appears in the June 2 issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences online.

SOURCE: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, news release, June 2, 2014

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