Saturday, May 30, 2020

Still Life with Robin: Stormy Days Ahead

Image by NOAA
by Peggy Robin

It’s not even June 1 – the official start of the hurricane season – and already we’ve had two named tropical storms, TS Arthur and TS Bertha, (which is how hurricanes start out before they grow to the size and power to be officially recognized as hurricanes; names are bestowed while still at the tropical storm stage). NOAA is forecasting an especially active hurricane season for 2020. We may well use up all 21 of the names on this year’s official hurricane name list, and then have to resort to letters of the Greek alphabet (as last occurred in 2005, which included Hurricanes/Tropical Storms Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Epsilon, and Zeta.

The Atlantic hurricane naming scheme is a product of the  World Meteorological Organization, an international body of each member nation’s top weather scientists. There’s a list of 21 names per year (no Q, and it stops at W) and there are six lists of names, used one per year in regular rotation. After the sixth year, the naming cycle starts again with the first-year list. Any named hurricane that is destructive enough will result in the retirement of that name -- so there will only ever be one Hurricane Katrina, or Hurricane Maria. Once a name is retired, a replacement name is chosen and it stays in that year’s list, until it, too, becomes memorable/terrible enough to merit a place in history as the name of a singular event.

I’ve long had an interest in the naming process for storms, and over the years have written a number of columns about it – the last one on Feb 1 2019  – mainly to express my dissatisfaction with the process used in naming winter storms. It has no official sanction but was invented by a commercial TV network, The Weather Channel, and first unveiled in 2012. The people at TWC are prone to pick notional, even whimsical, names, few of which seem appropriate to a severe and even life-threatening weather event. Like these: Yolo, Pax, Violet, Ukko, and Benji. Some of these are not even names. Once they named a storm “Q” – that’s it – just the letter Q. Not even a whole word.

Lately, I’ve begun to worry that our norm-breaking President might start to interfere with the National Weather Service, the way he’s interfered with other independent agencies and officials, such as firing inspectors who are supposed to be in non-political positions, and by putting out pronouncements on scientic and medical matters that are supposed to remain outside his executive authority (and which are indisputably outside his area of expertise). We saw a striking example of this during Hurricane Dorian in September 2019, when he tried to convince us, by means of a semi-circle drawn with a Sharpie on map, that Dorian would be on a path toward Alabama, instead of the Bahamas and the east coast of Florida (as forecast by the meteorologists at NWS, and as did, in fact, occur).

Since that time he’s only become even more convinced of his power to make policy based on his personal understanding of the science. He's even claimed to have "inherited" a talent for science from his uncle John Trump, an MIT professor and science “super genius.” And no, I did not make that last bit up – you can read the story here:

So what if Trump decides he doesn’t like the unexciting names for this year’s hurricanes? For the record, they are: Arthur, Bertha, Cristobal, Dolly, Edouard, Fay, Gonzalo, Hanna, Isaias, Josephine, Kyle, Laura, Marco, Nana, Omar, Paulette, Rene, Sally, Teddy, Vicky, and Wilfred – and note that a fair number of them are Spanish or French. Trump has never been one to appreciate international diversity.

No doubt Trump believes he could do better. And that it’s entirely within his authority as President to do so if he chooses. And who would there be to stop him if he did?

So I’m wondering what a Trump-picked list of hurricane names would look like, if it came to pass. Perhaps it would go something like this:

A (Arthur) and B (Bertha) have already been used, so let’s start at C and go on through W (the end of the named hurricane list. Remember, there’s no Q):

C – Covfefe
D – Don Jr.
E – Eric
F – FoxFriend
G – GreatAgain
H – Huge (pronounced “Yuge”)
I – Ivanka
J – Jared
K – Kellyanne
L – Loser
M – Melania
N – NastyWoman
O – Omarosa-the-Dog
P – Pompeo
R – Rudy
S – S***hole
T – Tweetstorm
U – Uncle Genius
V – Vladimir
W – Wall

The only thing that makes me hesitant to publish the above list is that I'm afraid it will just get him started....
Still Life with Robin is published on the Cleveland ParkListserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.

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