Weather Sexism: Female-Named Storms Deadlier, Seen As Less Threatening

Forget the brouhaha over Jill Abramson’s firing and questions about sexism running rampant in America’s newsrooms: here’s some really hard-core sexism that could kill you.

Researchers from the University of Illinois and Arizona State report that female hurricanes have proven to be more deadly than male hurricanes. Why? The researchers theorize that hurricanes with girly names like Alexandra aren’t taken as seriously as male-named storms, like Alexander; so, faced with a female storm, people don’t prepare as fully, or heed evacuation orders as intently.  

As USA Today notes: “The paper claimed that a masculine-named storm would kill about 15 people, but a hurricane of the same strength with a female name would kill about 42.”

Hurricane Katrina, 2005 (News Muse/flickr)

Hurricane Katrina, 2005 (News Muse/flickr)

Here’s more from the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences:

[Researchers] use more than six decades of death rates from U.S hurricanes to show that feminine-named hurricanes cause significantly more deaths than do masculine-named hurricanes. Laboratory experiments indicate that this is because hurricane names lead to gender-based expectations about severity and this, in turn, guides respondents’ preparedness to take protective action.

And in conclusion, the authors write:

…these findings suggest the value of considering a new system for hurricane naming to reduce the influence of biases on hurricane risk assessments and to motivate optimal preparedness. For media practitioners, the pervasive media practice of giving gendered descriptions of hurricanes should prompt a reconsideration of the use of “he” or “she” when communicating about hurricanes. Finally, making members of the general public aware of the impact of gender biases on subjective risk perceptions may improve preparedness in the face of the next Hurricane Fay or Laura. Continue reading

Big Weather Swings Could Hurt Health, Especially Of Old And Sick


In case you missed this piece on Radio Boston yesterday, take note: wild fluctuations in the weather (which we endured this winter and may face this summer) can be bad for your health — even possibly fatal if you are elderly and suffering from a chronic medical condition, according to a new report by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health. And this phenomenon of crazy swings in the temperature is predicted to worsen as climate change progresses.

“Day to day changes in temperature…that’s what seems to be dangerous,” Joel Schwartz, professor of environmental epidemiology at the Harvard School of of Public Health tells Radio Boston. He adds: “We think its very likely that the health impacts are going to get worse in the future.”

From the Harvard press release:

New research from Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) suggests that seemingly small changes in summer temperature swings—as little as 1°C more than usual—may shorten life expectancy for elderly people with chronic medical conditions, and could result in thousands of additional deaths each year. While previous studies have focused on the short-term effects of heat waves, this is the first study to examine the longer-term effects of climate change on life expectancy. Continue reading