Storms with female names are not ‘more deadly’ because people underestimate them

18 February 2022
What was claimed

Female-titled storms and hurricanes are more deadly.

Our verdict

This is not true. It comes from a research paper that was subsequently shown to be flawed.

There’s a bank of fascinating psychological research to back up the fact that overall, female-titled storms and hurricanes are in fact far more deadly… That’s right: storms are sexist.

Storm Eunice: 'Sexist' reason more people reportedly killed by storms named after women

An article in the Independent, which has been widely shared on Twitter, and another in the Mirror, claim that storms with female names, like Storm Eunice, are deadlier than those with male ones because people don’t take them as seriously and so don’t take as many precautions to protect themselves.

The article cites a research paper that was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) in 2014.

This paper studied “gender-based expectations” and concluded: “Feminine-named hurricanes (vs. masculine-named hurricanes) cause significantly more deaths, apparently because they lead to lower perceived risk and consequently less preparedness.”

In fact, this research contained several flaws, which were explained by a subsequent research paper in 2016. These flaws included:

  • it included storms between 1953 and 1978, when death tolls were higher and all storms had female names
  • it counted the name of the most deadly hurricane in the study, Sandy, as strongly feminine, even though it is often used for both men and women
  • the original paper only considered hurricanes and not tropical storms
  • it only considered hurricanes that made landfall
  • it excluded deaths outside the United States (and some inside the US)

When the analysis was repeated with a more representative sample of storms, the later researchers found there was no difference between the death tolls from male- or female-named ones.

The authors concluded: “The assertion that female-named storms are deadlier than male-named storms is not robust, evidently because it relied on the questionable statistical analysis of a narrowly defined set of data.”

Photo by Torsten Dederichs on Unsplash

We took a stand for good information.

After we published this fact check, we contacted the Independent and the Mirror to request corrections regarding these claims.

Both publications added correction notes and the Mirror also significantly changed its article. 

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