by Barry Burch Jr.
Roberta’s coming in strong. Everyone take cover!
Is it an urban legend, or did a congresswoman really sponsor a campaign to give tropical storms African-American names? All tropical storms have names, but why the crusade for African-American names, specifically?
In July 2003, a Democratic member of Congress, who represents the 18th District of Texas, Sheila Jackson Lee, began voicing her disagreement with the meteorological community’s decision to blatantly exclude African-American names for storms and hurricanes. As reported by NewsOne, Lee is a staunch supporter and member of the NAACP, Congressional Black Caucus, and a civil rights crusader.
If and when tropical storms exceed wind speeds of 74 miles per hour, they are deemed hurricanes. Giving them monikers allows meteorologists, researchers, emergency response workers, ship captains, and citizens to communicate about specific hurricanes in a clear and efficient manner.
Though Jackson Lee’s attempt may sound slightly off putting to the unaware, the World Meteorological Organization’s (WMO) Region Association IV Hurricanes Committee has made changes in how the agency chooses names for the large swirling storms several times.
Storms began receiving female names in 1953; in 1979 names for hurricanes alternated between male and female. During that same year, WMO began using French and Spanish names as well. Jackson Lee’s concern was that all ethnic groups were not being represented. She said that the racist practice of giving “lily-white” names to storms should stop.
The congresswoman offered some names she felt could be used for the storms, including Keisha, Jamal, and Deshawn.
When Jackson Lee initially made the attempt to draw attention to the issue, it was met with fierce criticism. Political pundits from the right like Rush Limbaugh did not hold back.
“It is these elected Black leaders, the civil-rights coalitions – they’re the ones that keep causing all this racial divide; they’re the ones that keep calling attention to all this. They’re the ones that keep stirring this pot. They’re the ones who don’t want there to be any colorblind society. They’re the ones who keep being agitated and trying to agitate others over all this, and now it’s descended into the meaningless element of the names of hurricanes!”
Well it’s been a decade since Jackson Lee’s attempt and no luck yet.
Perhaps the WMO isn’t too fond of Deshawn, Jamal, or Keisha? Though there was a hurricane named Floyd. You be the judge.