Name That Storm! — How Hurricane Handles Happen


Starting in 1954, viewers could tune in and watch “The Secret Storm,” a CBS soap opera, for two decades. But there’s nothing secret about real life storms–hurricanes. Weathermen and the media give us all the details on such storms; they even reveal the names hurricanes are to be given before hurricane status is achieved. How hurricanes get these handles, though, has always been a mystery to me. Let’s get rid of the secrecy and bring the naming plot into the open.

Finding out how hurricanes are named is a timely topic because we are currently in the midst of hurricane season which runs from June 1st until November 30th. What exactly is a hurricane though? It is a tropical cyclone that occurs in the Atlantic Ocean or in the northeast Pacific Ocean.

Although the origin of the word “hurricane” is subject to debate, one explanation is that it derived from the name of the Mayan storm god, Hurakan. Another explanation is that the word comes from the Taino (indigenous people of Florida and the Caribbean) word Hurrican, the Carib Indian God of Evil. My vote is with the latter theory. Anyone who has experienced the fury of a hurricane (think high winds, flooding, property damage, and power loss) can attest to how such a storm is properly linked to evil.

Atlantic hurricanes have been given names for a few hundred years. Hurricanes in the West Indies, for example, were named after the saint’s day on which a hurricane occurred. Thus, the exclamation “Saint Peter is raising holy hell!” could very well have been heard during a storm back then. If another storm occurred on the same saint’s day in a subsequent year, the designation, “the Second,” might be added to the name. Under these circumstances, one being battered by the second  storm might say, “Saint Peter the Second is even worse that Saint Peter was!”

In the early days of meteorology in the United States, hurricanes were denoted with the latitude and longitude of the storm’s point of origin. To no one’s great surprise, this method made discussing a storm difficult because folks were tripped up by the numbers in the location. Without a handy map and map reading skills, people were clueless as to the meaning conveyed by a sequence of numbers. Yelling, “Better batten down the hatches for +25.761681 -80.191788,” is confusing and less than helpful.

Not many good things come out of a war, but World War II led to better way to talk about storms. Military meteorologists working in the South Pacific then began using women’s names for storms. Accordingly, military radio traffic might have included a warning to “Watch out for the Japs and for Betty. They are both headed your way!”

Use of women’s names for quick identification of hurricanes was adopted by the National Hurricane Center in 1953. It became easier to discuss the storms with familiar names rather than number sequences, so public awareness of hurricanes increased. Citizens could remember names better than technical terms.

But how sexist was it to designate destructive storms with only women’s names? Men can wreak a great deal of havoc themselves. The National Hurricane Center broadened its outlook and starting to use men’s names for hurricanes in the late 1970’s. Equal rights for hurricane names! Woo hoo!

The names given to hurricanes are selected by the World Metereological Organization, a specialized agency of the United Nations headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. Needless to say, WMO staff are located far away from the path of any hurricane whether bearing a male or a female name. An international committee of WMO pre-approves the storm names for each season which are given to storms in alphabetical order. Nevertheless, only 21 names, not 26, are chosen. The letters Q, U, X, Y, and Z are skipped due to the difficulty of finding names beginning with them. But some head-scratching is required as to some of the 2020 names chosen. Dolly? Nana? Teddy? Do these sound like the names of fierce and destructive storms? NAH!

The WMO committee compiling storm names approves six lists of names which are used on a rotating basis. So, the 2020 list of names will be used again in 2026. In even years, a man’s name is given to the first storm; thus, Arthur, a man’s name, was the first 2020 storm. So much for ladies first!

What happens if it’s a really busy hurricane season and all 21 pre-approved names are used before the hurricane season ends? It’s all Greek to me–literally. Once the list of human names is exhausted, storms are then named after the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet. And that’s what is happening here in 2020 with Beta recently dropping in to pay her respects. The only other time in history the Greek alphabet was used was in 2005 when six storms bore Greek letters–Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Epsilon, and Zeta.

Using Greek letters for hurricane names might broaden public knowledge. Raise your hand if you can recite the Greek alphabet. Not seeing any hands out there. (Yes, I know I can’t see them from my computer, but I bet none are raised regardless.) However, Greek letter names are a bit weird. We might hear, “Nu is getting stronger” or “Oops! Upsilon could cause a lot of destruction!”

Names can be retired if a storm is particularly destructive and costly. It would be insensitive to use them for subsequent storms. Thus, there’s no chance of a future Hurricane Katrina. To date there have been 88 retired storm names. Name retirement requires the WMO committee to chose a replacement name beginning with the same letter as the retired storm.

An as yet unanswered question is how storms will be named if all 24 Greek alphabet letters are used during a hurricane season. No plans have yet been made for that possibility. Let’s hope the situation never happens, but it is 2020; that means it’s prudent to be prepared for any eventuality. We did hit the “W” storm name this year sooner than any other any other “W” storm on record. That does not bode well. Stay tuned–not for “The Secret Storm,” but to see how hurricane handles will be determined post-Omega. 

Just WONDER-ing:

What do you think would be a good name for a hurricane? How should storms be named if the Greek alphabet is exhausted? Would you have a clue where a storm originated if designated by its latitude and longitude?







Egregious Environmental Emergency — Marine Life Matters!

People aren’t the only ones having a rough go during 2020. Marine life is also taking a big hit with an egregious environmental emergency in Mauritius. A massive oil spill occurred off this Indian Ocean island leading to deaths of dolphins and whales and a threat to the world’s third largest coral reef. Haven’t heard about this disaster? Exactly! Marine life apparently doesn’t matter to the U.S. media.

Part of the reason you may not have heard this news story is because the events didn’t take place in the United States. In fact, you may not even be able to find the location on a map. Ground zero for this coastal catastrophe is the Republic of Mauritius, an island nation in the Indian Ocean off of the southeast coast of Africa. For geography whizzes, Mauritius is due east of Madagascar. For the rest of us, we first need to find Madagascar to start the hunt for Mauritius. 

Mauritius, a former British colony, is comprised of four islands–Mauritius, St. Brandon, Rodrigues, and Agalega–which comprise part of the Mascarene Islands. With a tropical climate, it is (or at least was pre-COVID-19) a major tourist destination. Mauritius is also home to some of the world’s rarest plants and animals. The previously unknown species of bird, the dodo (only dodos haven’t heard of the dodo), was found when Mauritius was initially discovered. The island provided the only known home for the dodo, but that bird became extinct in 1681. 

Aside from varied flora and fauna, this island paradise is also home to approximately 1.3 million residents. And these residents are currently hot under the collar about a shipping accident and their government’s response to it. 

On July 25th a Panama flagged, Japanese owned ship, the M/V Wakashio, was tootling along the coast of Mauritius. (An “M/V” is a merchant vessel transporting cargo for hire for those, which would include me, who are nautically challenged.) The ship, on its way from China to Brazil, was carrying a cargo of oil. Its crew was a merry lot celebrating the birthday of a crew member. To add to the merriment, the captain decided to go off course a few miles and get closer to the coast so his subordinates could get a mobile phone signal to call their families. But the contact made was the bulk carrier striking a coral reef located a mile off shore and running aground. Oops!

The surf pounded the stranded ship which ultimately cracked, spilling approximately 1,000 TONS of heavy oil into fragile marine areas. Pretty much all of the Mauritian coast is a fragile marine area since the island is surrounded by the world’s third largest coral reef. The fuel leaked into the (now formerly) pristine and turquoise waters of the Mahebourg Lagoon, and  threatened two environmentally protected marine ecosystems and the Blue Bay Marine Park Reserve. The Reserve was set up to protect “the area’s rich underwater forest of rare corals.”  So much for that aim. The leaking oil also wreaked havoc on a small island that served as a bird and wildlife sanctuary.

Mass damage to the marine ecosystem was feared, and Mauritian Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth declared a state of environmental emergency. No worries, right? The government was in charge. On second thought….

In response to the declared emergency, the Mauritian government took several steps. First, the captain of the ship and the first officer were arrested and charged with “endangering safe navigation.” What? Wasn’t it marine life and wildlife that were endangered? Sure their ship had lodged on a coral reef, but no ships are supposed to be navigating there so who’s navigation was endangered?

Secondly, the decision was made to deliberately sink the stricken ship. This plan required pumping out the fuel in the ship’s two remaining intact large oil tanks. What could possibly go wrong with that plan?? This decision was, understandably, met with anger by the island’s residents who rely on pristine waters and beaches for fishing and tourism, mainstays of the country’s economy. Things were bad enough with the hit taken by the country’s tourism due to COVID-19 and the ban on international travel.

Adding to the discontent, the Mauritian government spent a hefty sum to hire some international consultants to advise them. Really big bucks were paid from the country’s coffers to hire foreigners when local experts were readily available and presumably already familiar with the area and the issues. Hey! Another oxymoron. Alongside military intelligence we can put the phrase “government intelligence.”  

Within days of the Wakashio’s sinking, approximately 50 dead whales and dolphins washed up on the Mauritian shores. According to experts, water-soluble chemicals in the fuel may have caused these deaths. Unfortunately, the fuel being transported by the ship was a new low-sulfur fuel oil being introduced to reduce air pollution; therefore, the long-term effects of the spill are uncertain. But the outlook isn’t positive. As a WHO spokesman pointed out: “Oil contains hydrocarbons…, sulfur, and even heavy metals, all of which are acutely and chronically toxic to marine and terrestrial wildlife, as well as humans.” 

Mauritians reacted similarly to Americans who are upset about an event. They organized protests to express their frustration with the government’s perceived slow response and the deep secrecy surrounding it. Nevertheless, unlike Americans recently, the Mauritians are capable of having peaceful protests. The first protest was held on August 29th and saw 100,000+ people in attendance. The second protest, on September 12th, had around 50,000 participants. Strikingly, these figures represent between 5% and 10% of the island’s population. That’s an incredible turnout! 

These protests, held in Mahebourg, an area affected by the spill, were quite creative. Many individuals carried and waved inflatable dolphins. They also waved clever signs lambasting the government such as “I’ve seen better cabinets in IKEA.” Well, at least the beleaguered Mauritians haven’t lost their sense of humor. The protesters also called for some specific reforms such as revising their constitution to call for greater rights for nature.

Whatever punitive action is taken against the Japanese shipping company and the ship’s commanding officers, the fact remains marine life has been unalterably damaged. A 100,000 year old barrier coral reef has been soiled and marine life has been threatened. Even revising the Mauritian constitution to give rights to nature won’t help the dead dolphins and whales. Perhaps humans need to take the concept more seriously about lives mattering. It’s not just human ones who are under siege in this world. If we don’t wake up and smell the coffee, some marine life may go the way of the dodo.

Just WONDER-ing:

Before reading this post, had you heard about this environmental emergency? What’s the appropriate action to be taken against businesses responsible for such incidents occurring? Should life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness be extended to marine life in constitutions? Were you aware that the dodo, when in existence, was found only in Mauritius?



Swarming Locusts Elevate 2020 Evils To Biblical Proportions

Just when you thought things had gotten as bad as they could in 2020, the year’s evil takes flight–literally. Now the unfortunate events of 2020 have been elevated to Biblical proportions with plagues of swarming locusts appearing on the scene. Modern day Africans aren’t welcoming an insect onslaught any more than Pharaoh and the ancient Egyptians did when Moses was around. What’s the scoop on these ghastly grasshopper goings on?

Lost in the 2020 bad news of the coronavirus pandemic, devastating wildfires, and social unrest is the story of billions (that’s billions with a “b”) of desert locusts who have been affecting East Africa for months. Swarms can grow so big  they could cover New York City more than once and can be traced via satellite images. (Note to any locusts who are reading: The Big Apple is just a nickname; you can’t eat skyscrapers!) Kenya’s agriculture minister reports that the largest locust swarm to hit that country earlier this year was made up of 200 BILLION locusts and measured 2,400 square kilometers. 

Swarms ravage agriculture and devour pretty much everything in sight. Holy hungry hordes of hoppers, Batman! A locust swarm is capable of eating enough food to feed 2,500 people a day. The agricultural devastation caused by these locusts has resulted in food insecurity for millions of Africans and threatened the livelihood of 10% of the world’s population. 

Growing up I remember being encouraged to donate to relieve hunger for starving children in Africa. Today, however, thanks to the locusts, it’s not just children who are starving. At the beginning of September over 10 million people in the Eastern African region were experiencing “acute food insecurity.” (Translation for us common folk? They’re starving.) This “acute food insecurity” is the result of  locust plagues which have ravaged enormous fields of food crops. 

So, other than the obvious (being a destructive creature), what’s a locust? It’s a large  grasshopper that swarms on all continents except Antarctica; North America and Antarctica are the only two continents with no native species. These insects are short-horned grasshoppers (who even knew grasshoppers had horns?) between 0.5 and 3 inches in size weighing about 0.7 ounces. Besides horns, they also have teeth. All the better to ravage crops with, of course. Locusts are capable of rapid reproduction and can increase their population by twenty times in three months. Time for some locust birth control!

Locusts are ravenous eaters, so don’t invite one over for dinner unless you want to be eaten out of house and home. A locust can eat its body weight in vegetation every day. Sure, a locust is a tiny little beastie, but when millions of them swarm, they can destroy 300 million pounds of crops in a single day. Oh, and when their food runs out they turn cannibal. Eww!

Other than being destructive, locusts are best known for their swarming. Actually, swarming is just the grasshopper “going through a phase.” This phase, known as the gregarious phase, occurs when environmental conditions are just right, usually when there has been a drought followed by lots of rainfall and moisture causing rapid vegetation growth. At this point the locusts change color and experience body growth. Sounds like the insect version of the Hulk! The locusts, typically solitary creatures, also become attracted to one another and form swarms. 

Making them even more dangerous is the fact that locusts are powerful fliers. They can migrate from place to place to wreak their agricultural destruction. Even more unnerving is their ability to travel great distances; they can cover over 81 miles a day. These flying creatures can remain airborne for long periods even traveling nonstop across bodies of water such as the Red Sea, which measures 186 miles. In 1988 a locust swarm flew from West Africa to the Caribbean (more than 3,100 miles) in just 10 days. Maybe they were just seeking a tropical vacation after all that hard work of ravaging African agriculture.

The locusts’ ability to travel should make Americans nervous. Currently, North America has no regularly swarming locusts. Nevertheless, locusts do have history here. High Plains locust swarms reached plague proportions in the American Midwest in the 1930’s during the Dust Bowl. Thankfully,  the Rocky Mountain locust became extinct in 1902. But if locusts can make it from Africa to the Caribbean, the U.S. could be the next landing target. These insects may tire of tropical beaches and want to check out Disneyworld. Desert locust from Africa are illegal immigrants who have no business entering the U.S.!

How do you get rid of locusts? The use of pesticides has been the most effective weapon against them. But I have a another suggestion. Let’s eat those grasshoppers up! Yes, these insects are edible and even considered a delicacy in many countries. Yuk! John the Baptist dined on locusts and wild honey while abiding in the wilderness. Why not expand your dinner menu and add some Cambodian peanut stuffed locusts to your family’s plate? Eating locust would kill two birds with one stone; we’d get rid of locusts and have food for those suffering from “food insecurity.” 

Unfortunately, I expect it’ll be difficult to get rid of locusts who have been around since ancient times. How do we know that? Ancient Egyptians carved locusts in their tombs. Um, no. My idea of heaven is not having my earthly remains watched over by locusts. And who could forget the starring role locusts played in Exodus? Summoned by Moses, they produced a devastating plague in Egypt which darkened the land and stripped it of vegetation. This destruction helped to convince Pharaoh (at least temporarily) to let Moses’ people go. 

And the more things change, the more they stay the same. Sure it’s 2020, but we’re facing the same threat that the ancient Egyptians did–just on a bigger scale. The desert locust is now threatening one-fifth of the Earth’s land and one-tenth of the global population in over 60 countries. The future outlook is not bright either. Experts are worried that locust plagues will worsen in warming weather. Think climate change. 

Sometimes ignorance is bliss. With all that’s going on in the world, did we really need to add locusts plagues to the list of disasters facing us?  Locust plagues raise the evils of 2020 to Biblical proportions.But turning a blind eye to this plague simply allows the problem to continue and grow. Will millions more locusts in the world help? NO! We need to hop to it and get a vaccine for COVID-19 and a silver bullet to get rid of locusts.

Just WONDER-ing:

Were you aware locust plagues are occurring in Africa? Would you eat a locust if prepared in a “tasty” dish? Where do locust plagues rank in terms of world issues? How serious an issue is “food insecurity”?




Who’s #2? — The 411 On The Democratic Ticket’s Spouses

For every #1, there’s a #2–even in politics. While American citizens are bombarded with ads, commentary, and polls about the presidential and vice presidential candidates, important information is lacking. Who’s #2 for these contenders? The elected president and vice-president will each have a #2, a supportive spouse who will be the First Lady or the Second Lady/Gentleman. Should’t we get an earful about who would have the ear of our nation’s leaders? Time for the 411 on the possible #2’s.

The #2’s  for the Republican ticket are already a known quantity. President Trump is running for re-election with Mike Pence remaining as his VP. Thus, we’ve had four years to learn about their #2’s and see them in action. Melania Trump is her husband’s #2 as the First Lady or FLOTUS. (That’s First Lady of the United States for any of you who are challenged when it comes to acronyms.) Mike Pence’s wife, Karen, is his #2 as the Second Lady or SLOTUS. Perhaps it’s just me, but aren’t we taking these acronyms a bit too far?

When it comes to the Democratic ticket, though, less is known about the #2’s or, at least for Jill Biden, remembered. Joe’s wife was SLOTUS for eight years during the Obama administration. But, that was a long time ago (who can even remember pre-COVID-19?), so memories may have dimmed. A refresher is needed.

At age 69, former SLOTUS Jill Biden is nine years her husband’s junior. It may be impolite to ask a woman’s age, but when it comes to politics, all facts are apparently fair game. Although she’s blond, Mrs. Biden is no dummy. In fact, she’s extremely well educated, holding three graduate degrees–two master’s degrees and a doctor of education (Ed.D.). Her doctorate is in educational leadership and was obtained from the University of Delaware in 2007.

Jill Biden is also not easily swayed. She turned down Joe’s marriage proposals five times before finally saying yes. Joe was a widower with two young boys, so she wanted to make sure that what she was doing was best for all concerned. The sixth time was the charm, and Joe and Jill married in the Chapel at the United Nations in NYC–perhaps not romantic, but very diplomatic. Would that voters took as much time and thought about voting for president as Mrs. Biden did about giving up the single life.                                                                                     

Since the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, one can assume that Dr. Biden, should she become FLOTUS, will have quite the schedule to juggle. She taught full-time during her husband’s two terms as Vice President serving as a professor of English at the Northern Virginia Community College, a post she’s held since 2009. As FLOTUS would she have to beg off attending a state dinner in order to get English papers graded? 

The role of First Lady has never been officially defined. Basically, it is just a title conferred upon the hostess of the White House. The position is not elected and carries only ceremonial duties but is highly visible. FLOTUS even gets her own office in the East Wing of the White House complete with a staff such as a press secretary, chief of staff,  and a social secretary. If Dr. Biden fills this position, she seems like a wonderful choice to write a FLOTUS handbook (grammatically correct, of course) with leadership tips.

But way more intriguing than Joe’s spouse is Kamala Harris’ husband. If the Biden-Harris ticket is victorious, the U.S. will, for the first time in our country’s history, get a Second Gentleman. Actually, I think we’d have to dub him Second Man because the SMOTUS acronym works way better that SGOTUS. Actually, the latter doesn’t work at all.

Like Kamala, her 55 year old husband, Douglas (“Doug”) Emhoff, is also an attorney. Brooklyn  born, he received his law degree across the country from the University of Southern California. Licensed to practice in both California and Washington, D.C., Emhoff is described as an “entertainment litigator.” Of course, his navigating the uncharted waters of a SMOTUS could be pretty entertaining in and of itself. 

As a partner in a global law firm with locations in over 40 countries, Emhoff is used to running with the big dogs. That background should serve him well in assimilating into the political power scene in D.C. If nothing else, he’ll have great cocktail party conversation fodder from his famous lawsuit involving the Taco Bell chihuahua in which he successfully defended the ad agency sued by Taco Bell. Drop that gordita, Doug!

Emhoff met Harris on a blind date arranged by one of her friends. The two immediately hit it off and were married within a year. That romantic devil proposed to the possible next Vice President in her apartment as the two discussed what Thai takeout to get. Awww! A courthouse wedding swiftly followed four months later. Whether Thai food was served at the reception is unknown.

The two lawyers have been married for six years now, and Emhoff is a regular presence with his wife during campaigning. To his wife’s amusement, he wowed the crowds with his dance moves at a Pride parade in 2019 as evidenced by a clip on social media. Yup, he’s an entertaining entertainment lawyer.

The role of a SLOTUS or SMOTUS is pretty ambiguous. Appearances at official functions seem an obvious task, but beyond that is anyone’s guess. With his entertainment world connections, Emhoff could throw some great events at the Vice President’s official residence, the U.S. Naval Observatory. Who knows? Maybe the Taco Bell chihuahua might even put in an appearance.

Even though neither FLOTUS or SLOTUS/SMOTUS are elected positions, they are nonetheless important ones. Spouses are a team, so the President and Vice President’s roles are supported by their #2. Or are they #2? With a marriage, the two become one. The political spouse is bound to be a sounding board at the least and certainly an influencer to some extent since they have their spouse’s ear for pillow talk. Thus, consideration of who a spouse is and how they might influence the elected official is a prudent one.

The winners of the 2020 presidential election remain to be seen. All that is known for certain is that whoever is elected, whether Democratic or Republican, will come with a spouse as a package deal. Given the overwhelming responsibility of filling the two highest offices in the land, the election winners will need all the support they can get from FLOTUS and SLOTUS/SMOTUS, their #2’s who are their #1 supporters.

Just WONDER-ing:

Since the position of FLOTUS carries significant responsibilities, should it be a paid one? How much influence do you think a spouse actually has on an officeholder? Is it possible to do a good job as FLOTUS or SLOTUS/SMOTUS if that spouse is employed full-time? To what extent, if any, do you consider a candidate’s spouse when voting?