Hurricane season starts on June 1, and it's time we the people took control -- of naming them. Almost every year, these bad boys and girls have been storming up and down our coastlines, leveling Florida homes, tearing open New Orleans levees, floating Vermont pickup trucks and generally causing havoc.
So what can we do about them? Well, we can't stop 'urricanes from 'appening, to paraphrase Eliza Doolittle; they have international passports. Hurricanes often form as dust clouds in the African Sahara, soak in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, and then languish on exotic Caribbean islands before crashing onto our shores like texting drivers.
So if we can't beat 'em, can we at least name 'em?
The World Meteorological Organization began naming hurricanes in 1950. The tradition is relatively recent considering that the first recorded howler was "the Great Tempest of 1609," which struck the Chesapeake Bay. And the worst hurricane to hit the United States -- which killed up to 12,000 people and washed away 3,600 homes in Galveston, Texas, in 1900 -- was never named.
Enter the meteorologists, who haven't done a very good job. This is no surprise, since their forecasting hasn't been great, either. But thanks to them, hurricanes have names like Fifi and Fabian. Might be fitting for a poodle or an aging rock star, but would you pick a moniker like Beulah for your offspring?
Why not names like Jacob and Sophia, which topped the Social Security Administration's list of the most popular baby names for 2011? And don't forget fifth-ranked Noah. Well, maybe not such a good idea since it conjures up memories of a certain flood.
And meteorologists aren't creative, either. They roll out the same list every six years, so predictably (unlike the weather) Alberto will head the list of this year's storms, just as he did in 2006 and will again in 2018. The only exceptions are the 76 storms that were so big and tough that they had their names "retired," sort of like the jerseys of great athletes.
And why ignore the letters near the end of the alphabet such as u, x, y and z? Haven't weathermen ever heard of Ursula, Xavier, Yolanda and Zoe?
Let the 'Mayhem' begin
So here's my modest proposal. Since there are already reality show contests like "Dancing with the Stars" or "American Idol," where judges either pick or vote for contestants to make the cut and then the public calls or texts in their votes, why not do the same for hurricanes? Judges could choose the names from the 30,000 in a typical baby-names book in January, and the voting would run until the season opener on June 1.
But you'll need to treat this contest like politics, where money talks. Those with a lot at stake -- such as property casualty, business and auto insurers in hurricane-prone areas -- should be the judges. GEICO's gecko, Progressive's Flo and Allstate's "Mayhem" would make splashy celebrity judges. Mayhem is particularly appropriate for Allstate, since it lost $5 billion from Hurricane Katrina.
It's too late to begin our new contest this year, but we could have our reality show ready for the 2013 season. And that would mean we would never have to hear the names Felix or Humberto again.