What's in a name during hurricane season? Apparently, a whole lot

·3 min read

What's in a name? It's a question that's been ruminated over since the time of Shakespeare, and one that is still being contemplated today when it comes to tropical storms and hurricanes.

Because Tropical Storm Claudette was not named until it was over land, many in the Southeast were caught off guard, despite AccuWeather warning about the possibility for tropical impacts as early as June 7 and the storm being monitored by the National Hurricane Center (NHC) for more than a week as it developed.

Rather than being given a name as it gathered strength over the Gulf of Mexico, the NHC designated it as a Potential Tropical Cyclone a day before landfall.

"Giving it a name definitely makes a difference in terms of behavior," Dr. Robert Collins, a professor of Urban Studies and Public Policy at Dillard University in New Orleans, told AccuWeather National Reporter Bill Wadell. People behave, prepare and react differently, and it "definitely makes a difference" when a storm is given a name by the NHC, Collins added. "There's no question about that."

AccuWeather Broadcast Meteorologist Mark Mancuso on television updating viewers on the forecast for Claudette after it had weakened to a depression and before it regained tropical storm force over North Carolina. (AccuWeather)

Unnamed storms are often underestimated, though they can still cause serious and potentially life-threatening damage. Flooding, high winds and tornadoes can all occur in unnamed systems -- and all of those impacts did occur with Claudette, the third named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season. Those forecast impacts were all reasons AccuWeather meteorologists had rated the system that would become Claudette a 1 on the AccuWeather RealImpact Scale for Hurricanes long before the NHC had designated it a Potential Tropical Cyclone.

Damage from a possible tornado in East Brewton, Alabama, as Claudette moved inland. (Twitter/ @alicia_ryanne)

Residents who live in the path of Claudette who Wadell spoke with backed up Collins' claim.

"We didn't have a clue that it was gonna be this bad, and when we got out, it was devastating," Valorie Grantham of East Brewton, Alabama, told Wadell.

While Claudette was named, there have been multiple unnamed storms that have drenched the Gulf Coast and caused significant damage.

In Aug. 2016, an unnamed system dropped up to two feet of rain in under 48 hours across parts of Louisiana. The storm caused more than a dozen deaths and upwards of $10 billion dollars in damage. But because the storm lacked necessary requirements, namely sustained winds greater than 39 mph and a well-defined center of circulation, the storm was unnamed.

An aerial photo over Hammond, La., shows flooded Hammond Eastside Elementary Magnet School and Hammond High Magnet School after heavy rains inundated the region Saturday, Aug. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Max Becherer)

At the time, the Red Cross called the event the "worst natural disaster to strike the United States since Superstorm Sandy."

Even for insurance providers and government officials, it can be important for storms to be named. Named storms receive more attention, such as aid and disaster declarations, from government officials. Additionally, less data is collected on unnamed storms, making insurance claims more difficult.

"Grants for rebuilding that may not be covered by insurance, housing, rental assistance, food assistance - you're not going to get those resources unless it's a named storm," Collins said.

Collins urged residents to prepare for tropical systems even before they get named. AccuWeather's free app features news and updates on developing tropical systems that AccuWeather forecasters are monitoring before they are named by the NHC. AccuWeather.com's Hurricane Tracker also highlights news alerts, forecasts and track maps for upcoming tropical threats.

Reporting by Bill Wadell.

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