Please join us late morning on Day 1 of Hurricane Season 2019 when author Liz Skilton presents and signs TEMPEST: Hurricane Naming and American Culture.
Skilton's innovative new book tracks the naming of hurricanes over six decades, exploring the interplay between naming practice and wider American culture. In 1953, the U.S. Weather Bureau adopted female names to identify hurricanes and other tropical storms. Within two years, that convention came into question, and by 1978 a new system was introduced, including alternating male and female names in a pattern that continues today. Skilton blends gender studies with environmental history to analyze this often controversial tradition.
Focusing on the Gulf South--the nation's "hurricane coast" - Skilton examines select storms, including Betsy, Camille, Andrew, Katrina, and Harvey, while referencing dozens of others. Through print and online media sources, government reports, scientific data, and ephemera, she reveals how language and images portray hurricanes as gendered objects and what this does to our understanding of extreme weather events.
As she chronicles the evolution of gendered storm naming in the United States, Skilton delves into many other aspects of hurricane history. She describes attempts at scientific control of storms through hurricane seeding during the Cold War arms race of the 1950s and relates how Roxcy Bolton, a member of the National Organization for Women, led the crusade against feminizing hurricanes from her home in Miami near the National Hurricane Center in the 1970s. Skilton also discusses the skyrocketing interest in extreme weather events that accompanied the introduction of 24-hour news coverage of storms, as well as the impact of social media networks on Americans' tracking and understanding of hurricanes and other disasters.
The debate over hurricane naming continues, as Skilton demonstrates, and many Americans question the merit and purpose of the gendered naming system. What is clear that hurricane names matter, and that they fundamentally shape our impressions of storms, for good and bad.
Liz Skilton is Assistant Professor of History and holds the J.J. Burdin M.D. and Helen B. Burdin/Board of Regents Endowed Professorship in Louisiana Studies at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. She is currently the co-Director of the Guilbeau Center for Public History. Skilton specializes in the history of disaster and human response to it. Her research has been featured in venues like National Geographic and The Washington Post. She serves as part of the research faculty at the Institute for Coastal & Water Research, the Louisiana Watershed Flood Center, and the Center for Louisiana Studies at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and as part of a National Science Foundation grant research team studying the impact of disaster on Louisiana.
Liz Skilton's innovative study tracks the naming of hurricanes over six decades, exploring the interplay between naming practice and wider American culture. In 1953, the U.S. Weather Bureau adopted female names to identify hurricanes and other tropical storms.