Miami - hurricanes, Haribos and a female equality advocate called Roxcy

December 7, 2017

Tues 28th - 21km


Sandy, Irene, Wilma, Katrina – I have always wondered why the most powerful storms and hurricanes referred to in the media are given a series of decorous female names from the 1960s. Apparently this naming system started as it was less confusing to give hurricanes female names than to use the military’s phonetic alphabet or longitude and latitude coordinates. Time magazine did an interview with Norman Hagen, a U.S Weather Bureau planning official, in 1955 who explained the difficulties associated with this task. Names such as Dawn and Eve are obviously out he said, as well as weather-associated names such as Gail.


The practice of giving hurricanes female names evidently became an issue for the gender equality advocates that started speaking out in the early 1960s.  In 1970, Vice President of the National Organization for Women (NOW) Roxcy Bolton took up the baton on this controversial issue with the National Hurricane Centre in Miami. Bolton proclaimed that the current system "reflects and creates an extremely derogatory attitude toward women," who "deeply resent being arbitrarily associated with disaster." Whether or not there were more pressing issues that Roxcy, a lead female equality activist in 1960s America, could have turned her mind to, is out of the scope of this post.  However, you can sympathise with her as you think of the 6pm weather channel asserting that “Katrina is extremely unpredictable as she tears up the country breaking up households and destroying homes and possessions.” Thank goodness that in 1978 gender equality prevailed and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) declared that hurricanes would henceforth be given male names too. "Bob" hit the Gulf Coast region on July 11, 1979.


Regardless of name, recent deadly hurricanes have all, to a certain extent, been described as “freak storms,” a combination of low-probability events that could conceivably have occurred in in the absence of human-induced climate change. However, in a planet that is warming, low-probability events are becoming more frequent and more extreme. Climate scientists have asserted that although there is no evidence that the number of hurricanes will increase, there is certainly evidence that the strongest hurricanes will become more intense and more devastating. Head scientist at Climate Central, Heidi Cullen, equates the cause and effect between climate change and hurricanes to that of smoking and lung cancer:


“the risk factors are there, the disease process is understood and even if you can't definitively determine why any one person got sick, the trends and evidence are clear”

Essentially, hurricanes are powered by warm moist air. As the ocean and atmospheric temperatures rise, water evaporates more quickly and the warmer air holds more water vapour. This results in an increase in the amount and intensity of rain during a hurricane. Storm surge (meaning the tsunami-like tides that result in coastal flooding) is also greater due to global warming-caused sea-level rise. The combination of greater storm surge and more intense rainfall for extended periods increases the chance of extensive flooding. The proof is in the record-breaking hurricanes that have already devastated the Americas and the Caribbean so far this year. Irma, a category 5 storm, was amongst the strongest Atlantic hurricanes on record while Hurricane Harvey exceeded the previous continental US rainfall total for a single event.


I was unsure if the effects of Irma would still be evident in the Florida region, or if Miami’s flooding and hurricane response plans were now so well-rehearsed that the damage would have been cleared in a matter of weeks. We landed at Fort Lauderdale Airport at around 2pm and after a nutritious snack consisting of a packet of Haribo gummy bears and some leftover plane crackers, my friend Kat and I set off on our 21km run around Miami. Articles in the media described the damage to the Florida Keys in the wake of Hurricane Irma, however even months on, we witnessed damage to a number of waterfront properties along the east coast of Miami Beach. We were also forced to dodge a number of pools of water along the route, including on the roads beside the beach and on the Miami Beach Golf Course, where an official asked us to leave (not because of the pools of water, simply because we should not have been running on a golf course). One couple told us that they were very lucky to escape lasting effects to their property, as the Ritz-Carlton Hotel next door to them was forced to close after copping extensive water damage. There is no set reopening date and nearly 300 employees have been laid off.

Although I am doing the run here in Miami, I don’t want to skip over the fact that hurricanes and heavy rain events are currently occurring all around the world. Flood disasters in Africa in 2017 have gone largely unreported, such as the flooding that destroyed hundreds of homes and caused thousands of people to evacuate in Niamey, Niger; separate flood events caused mudslides that resulted in thousands of deaths in Ituri, Democratic Republic of Congo and Freetown, Sierra Leone; and the heavy rains that resulted in more than 110,000 people being displaced in Benue, Nigeria. Further, in an average year in Bangladesh approximately one quarter of the country is inundated and every four to five years a severe flood will occur that may cover over 60% of the country. 


A huge thank you to Kat, who agreed to do four legs of this journey with me! She also took some amazing videos, however due to technical difficulties, we cannot find them. They have therefore not been included in this post. 




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