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Study: Hurricanes with female names deadlier than hurricanes with male names

Critics say the study takes information out of context while ignoring other important factors.
By Matt Bradwell   |   June 2, 2014 at 5:02 PM   |   Comments

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CHAMPAIGN, Ill., June 2 (UPI) -- Americans are more likely to take seriously hurricanes with male names, making fatalities more common during storms named for women, according to a study by the University of Illinois.

Researches compared the death tolls from all 94 American hurricanes between 1950 and 2012, finding that for every 15 people killed in a male-named storm, 42 people were killed in a female-named storm.

"In judging the intensity of a storm, people appear to be applying their beliefs about how men and women behave," said Sharon Shavitt, a marketing professor at the University of Illinois and co-author of the study. "This makes a female-named hurricane, especially one with a very feminine name such as Belle or Cindy, seem gentler and less violent."

"Individuals assess their vulnerability to hurricanes and take actions based not only on objective indicators of hurricane severity, but also on the gender of hurricanes," the study reads. "This pattern may emerge because individuals systematically underestimate their vulnerability to hurricanes with more feminine names, avoiding or delaying protective measures."

"People may be dying as a result of the femininity of a hurricane (name)," added Shavitt.

Rebecca Morss, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, says the study fails to account for a number of important factors to reach a conclusion with little practical meaning.

"In a real hurricane situation people are receiving many different pieces of information over a period of hours or days, in what can be a high-pressure situation where people are dealing with family interactions, monetary and other constraints, etc.," Morss explained. "While the study addresses an interesting concept, further research would be needed in order to justify actual changes in hurricane communication practice."

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