Isaac not a name to remember

Published 12:01 am Friday, August 31, 2012

Chances are we will see another Hurricane Isaac in our lifetime. The reluctant hurricane just didn’t want to be associated with the likes of Katrina and Gustav. Those names have been retired forever in the annals of history never to be used again.

Isaac on the other hand will more than likely be recycled for another storm six or seven years from now.

As much as forecasters wanted it to be a major event, Isaac was unwilling to cooperate. It wasn’t until he was knocking on the door of the Mississippi River that he half-heartedly gathered enough strength to shed the tropical storm moniker.

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And when he finally decided to step ashore, the storm dumped a lot of rain accompanied with high winds. For those affected by downed trees and other storm damaged Isaac will be remembered as more than a lumbering typhoon.

It is a curious thing that we name these behemoths of winds and rain. We don’t name other meteorological events. Earthquakes, snowstorms nor tornadoes receive the same honor, even though they create just as much havoc.

According to the National Hurricane Center, it wasn’t until 1953 that the National Hurricane Center began using female names to name hurricanes.

During World War II, tropical cyclones in the Pacific were informally given the names of meteorologist’s girlfriends and wives, like airmen named their planes.

Between 1950 and 1952, they were named using the U.S. Army and Navy Phonetic alphabet — which led to such bizarre names as Hurricane Dog, Hurricane Easy and Hurricane Love. The same list of names was used for next two years, causing confusion when weather watchers tried to differentiate between the Hurricane Fox of 1950 versus the Hurricane Fox of 1952.

It wasn’t long before the new naming system caught on. It helped authorities warn the public and the public started paying attention.

This is especially true when several storms are brewing in warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico at the same time.

In 1979, men’s names were added to the list of names approved by the World Meteorological Organization. This group keeps six lists and reuses the names every six years unless a storm creates so much havoc to have its name retired.

Currently there 75 names that are in this infamous list.

After 12 years of talking to evacuees and others living in the paths of these storms, I get the sense that hurricanes are much more than a name. These storms become living, breathing things. Unwelcome guests for sure, evacuees talk about the storms in terms of “he” and “she.”

Like human beings, Camille is as different as Katrina is different from Gustav.

Come to think of it, I can’t imagine what it would be like if we didn’t have names by which to call these storms. “That hurricane of 2005,” just doesn’t viscerally bring back the memories like the name “Hurricane Katrina” does.

It is likely that for most people Hurricane Isaac will be forgotten in a matter of months, if not weeks. If Isaac had become the Democratic party crasher at the Republican National Convention as Rush Limbaugh and other media personalities insinuated maybe Isaac would have had a greater chance of making the history books. Instead he meandered past Tampa Bay on the way to New Orleans, confounding meteorologists and frustrating residents of the Miss-Lou left tapping their feet wondering when the storm would arrive then when he’d go away.


Ben Hillyer is the design editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3550 or