VERIFY: Are hurricanes with female names deadlier than hurricanes with male names?

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This claim traces back to a 2014 study, where researchers said female hurricanes caused three times as many deaths. Our VERIFY team provides context

WASHINGTON — After Ida made landfall in Lousiana as a Category 4 hurricane — on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina — an old social media rumor resurfaced that hurricanes with traditionally female names are deadlier than ones with traditionally male names.

Our Verify researchers sought to find out where it started and if it’s true.


In the U.S. are hurricanes with female names deadlier than hurricanes with male names?



There’s not enough evidence to say that hurricanes with female names are deadlier than ones with male names.


Our Verify researchers traced that claim back to a 2014 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

Researchers looked at whether people tended to take fewer precautions ahead of a hurricane if it had a female name, because they perceived the risk to be smaller than a hurricane with a male name. It also claimed hurricanes with female names were three times as deadly.

Obviously, the storm is not more dangerous solely on the basis of it having a classically feminine name, but the authors suggested people may take those storms less seriously.

Since the study was done by business, psychology and gender studies experts — not meteorologists — our Verify researchers turned to two meteorology professors and hurricane experts Stephanie Zick and Mark Bourassa to add more background and context.

We also looked at history and facts from the National Hurricane Center, specifically a 49-page paper on the “deadliest, costliest, and most intense” U.S. tropical storms in recent history.

In the early days, hurricanes were referred to by where they hit or sometimes after saints. Then from 1953-1979, hurricanes only had female names. That changed in 1979 when they started alternating between male and female names.

Our experts say that change in pattern is important. 

Zick explained when you’re doing a study like this, it’s important to test if your results are “sensitive” to a certain time period, meaning, if you looked further back or further forward would you get the same results.

The 2014 study only looked at 60 years of data. The National Hurricane Center’s paper looked at 159 years of data. It ranked the deadliest hurricanes to hit the United States and its territories between 1851-2010 and found that the deadliest hurricane was the Galveston Hurricane in 1900, followed by the San Ciracio in 1899 and then the Okeechobee Hurricane in 1928.

“They probably weren’t more deadly in the sense of size, strength scariness of the storm, but they came upon people with less warning,” Bourassa said.

Zick agreed. 

“The main way that they knew that there was a storm is if a ship encountered it. And they did make weather maps, and they were tracking the weather,” she said. “But there were a lot of storms that were going missed simply because we did not have the observing technologies that we have today.”

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When you look at the death toll for all the storms with at least 25 deaths, at first glance, female storms outnumber male storms, 14 to 4. But that number drastically changes when you look after 1979 when names first started alternating genders: it drops to four male-named storms versus three female-named storms.

Both Zick and Bourassa say when it comes to this claim about the female storms being deadlier, don’t read into the name. 

“If there’s evidence that that’s true, it’s probably just a statistical anomaly,” Bourassa said. “Because there’s no reason physically that the name of a storm should impact the deadliness of the storm, and the names are chosen so far in advance that they’re not fit to match the storm.”

“Science is about the accumulation of evidence…and there just aren’t multiple studies in this case,” Zick added. 

While our experts pointed to some flaws in the study, they didn’t go so far to say it’s wrong.

Still, we can Verify, there is not enough evidence to say that hurricanes with female names are deadlier.

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