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It's all about perception: Study finds 'female' hurricanes deadlier than 'male' hurricanes

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Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter

Monday, June 2, 2014, 5:42 PM - A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that people are less likely to flee a hurricane with a feminine sounding name, making them "significantly" more deadly.

The team analyzed 60 years of U.S. hurricane death rates to draw their conclusion -- although Hurricane Katrina (2005) and Hurricane Audrey (1957) were omitted from the dataset because they proved to be more deadly than "typical storms."

It's believed the feminine-named storms are more deadly because they appear to be less dangerous than storms with masculine names.

"As a result, people in the path of these severe storms may take fewer protective measures, leaving them more vulnerable to harm," reads a statement on the University of Illinois website.

Kiju Jung, a U.I. doctoral student and lead author on the study says that a hurricane's name has nothing to do with its severity.


RELATED: Five things you need to know about the 2014 Atlantic hurricane season 


"Names are assigned arbitrarily, based on a predetermined list of alternating male and female names," he added in a statement. "If people in the path of a severe storm are judging the risk based on the storm's name, then this is potentially very dangerous."

The authors found that the more feminine-sounding the name of a storm was, the more people it killed. They suggest that changing a hurricane's name from the masculine-sounding "Charley" to the feminine-sounding "Eloise" could nearly triple its death toll.

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

The study's authors are calling the findings "extremely important" and could influence how forecasters choose hurricane names in the future.

According to the paper hurricanes kill more than 200 people a year in the U.S. alone -- and it's important to remember that all hurricanes can be potentially deadly, regardless of their name.

The complete study can be found online at the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Thumbnail image courtesy of NASA

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