A Storm by Any Other Name

By CodingStrategies on May 25th, 2018

A hurricane is a tropical storm that forms in either the Atlantic or Eastern Pacific Basin, includes rain, thunder and lightning, and winds of 74 miles per hour or greater. Weather systems that arise in the Northwest Pacific are called typhoons, while those that originate in the South Pacific or Indian Ocean are called cyclones. According to one source, the word “hurricane” is derived from the name of the Mayan storm god, Hurakan (aka, Hurrican, or Harakan). Based on tradition, Hurakan was one of the creator gods who blew across the chaotic waters of the primeval ocean to form land. Later, he became displeased with the second generation of humanity, so he blew across the waters again, causing a great storm that swept over their island and drowned the offending humans.

The word “hurricane” was first used in English in Richard Eden’s “Decades of the New World,” and Shakespeare used the spelling “hurricano” to refer to a waterspout. Regardless of what you call it, this type of storm is no trivial matter. Christopher Columbus recorded his first encounter with severe tropical storms (most likely hurricanes) in 1494 while visiting the island of Hispaniola. One year later, in 1495 Columbus documented the earliest definitive report of a mighty storm while in the West Indies. In his journal, Columbus noted “Nothing but the service of God and the extension of monarchy would expose me to such danger.”

For as long as people have been tracking and reporting hurricanes, they’ve been struggling to find ways to identify them. Until well into the 20th century, newspapers and forecasters in the United States devised names for storms that referenced their time period, geographic location or intensity. As a result, there is the Great Hurricane of 1722, the Galveston Storm of 1900, the Big Blow of 1913, and the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935.

In Australia, weatherman Clement Wragge began assigning names to tropical cyclones in the late 19th century, initially using the letters of the Greek alphabet and characters from Greek and Roman mythology. Upon exhausting these, he switched to alphabetical letters to identify storms, and eventually migrated to South Sea Island girls’ names. An eccentric and playful fellow, he later named storms after local politicians he particularly disliked. By employing this naming structure, he was able to state in public forecasts that the official was “causing great distress” or “wandering aimlessly about the Pacific.” Needless to say, Wragge’s antagonistic approach didn’t endear him to the meteorology profession.

During World War II, U.S. Air Force and Navy meteorologists plotting storms over the Pacific needed a better way to record hurricanes while analyzing weather maps. Some began honoring their wives and girlfriends back home by naming these tempests after them. In 1945 the newly formed National Weather Bureau (which later became the National Weather Service) introduced a system based on the military phonetic alphabet, but by 1953 those options had been exhausted. The following year, the bureau embraced the prior informal practice of giving hurricanes women’s names. Because America led the world in weather tracking technology at the time, many other countries adopted the new classification method as well.

By the 1960s, some feminists began taking issue with the gendered naming convention. Most vocal among them was a National Organization for Women member from the Miami area named Roxcy Bolton. In the early 1970s she reprimanded the NWS for their hurricane naming system, declaring, “Women are not disasters, destroying life and communities and leaving a lasting and devastating effect.” Perhaps taking her position from Clement Wragge, she recommended senators – who, she said, “delight in having things named after them” – as more appropriate namesakes for storms.

In 1979, the National Weather Service and the World Meteorological Association finally switched to an alternating inventory of both men’s and women’s names. In recent years, the lists of names, which are predetermined and rotate every six years, have been further diversified to reflect the many regions where tropical storms strike. Names of devastating hurricanes with major loss of life and economic impact, such as Andrew in 1992 and Katrina in 2005, are permanently retired.


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In addition to the diagnosis code for the specific injury sustained, ICD-10-CM codes for medical services resulting from hurricanes and typhoons include:

X37.0XXA             Hurricane, initial encounter

X37.0XXD             Hurricane, subsequent encounter

X37.0XXS             Hurricane, sequela

For some reason, cyclones are listed in ICD-10-CM with the codes for a tornado:

X37.1XXA             Tornado, initial encounter

X37.1XXD             Tornado, subsequent encounter

X37.1XXS             Tornado, sequela

And, if the injury is a result of a cloudburst or torrential rain, the ICD-10-CM codes are:

X37.8XXA             Other cataclysmic storms, initial encounter

X37.8XXD             Other cataclysmic storms, subsequent encounter

X37.8XXS             Other cataclysmic storms, sequela

Regardless of the language used to describe a hurricane, the word can be used to figuratively refer to anything that is powerful and causes turmoil. And even with advance notice of impending disaster and preparation, people can still be harmed by hurricanes. According to author and naturalist Diane Ackerman, hurricane season brings a humbling reminder that, despite our technologies, most of nature remains unpredictable. Anderson Cooper, American journalist, television personality, and author adds:

“Anyone who says they’re not afraid at the time of a hurricane is either a fool or a liar, or a little bit of both.”