Hurricane Ironic?

The word on the street is that we had an earthquake on the East Coast. It was even felt up here in New York, though not by me. It was apparently more noticeable in New York City, but in the surrounding area, experiencing the earthquake depended on being near the coast, on a higher floor in a building, or in bed staring at the ceiling.

Not to be outdone, of course, Hurricane Irene has decided that she needs attention, and so talk has turned from the fairly anti-climactic ‘earthquake’ to the exciting new prospect of floods, felled trees, and power outages. It is claimed that Irene will be the worst storm in the area since 1938.

As far as natural disasters go, we in the Northeast of the United States usually have it easy. Blizzards, sure, but an earthquake and a hurricane? In the same week? Might it really be the end of the world as we know it?

Doesn't look so peaceful to me. (Image courtesy of

Irene is already spreading chaos and panic. Stores are selling out of batteries, camping lanterns, generators, and candles. People are making arrangements to have Monday off from work and obsessively checking updated weather reports on their smart phones. And this is just the first wave. Come Saturday, even those normally not given to anxiety will be frantically searching for a store that still has fresh drinking water and beer on their shelves. The supply of potato chips has already been decimated. Seriously.

This sure is a lot of trouble from a storm whose name means ‘peace.’

The name Irene came from Latin via French, but before that, it was Greek: Irini (peace; Eirini; Ειρήνη). Though her name came from the Greek goddess who personified peace, one of the notable historical women named Irene gave us a hint of her brutal power: “The name was common in the Byzantine Empire, notably being borne by an 8th-century empress, who was the first woman to lead the Empire. She originally served as regent for her son, but later had him killed and ruled alone.”

Well, that at least seems more in keeping with the 115-mile-per-hour wind of a Category 3 hurricane that is currently putting the smackdown on the Bahamas, and which astronauts in the International Space Station have called “terrifying.”

Naming hurricanes has had a long, interesting history. In the days before The National Hurricane Center had the power to officially name hurricanes, they were often named after coordinates, saints, politicians, or mythical figures. In 1950, Atlantic storms were named after the International Alphabet, but when it changed in 1952, the naming scheme had to be revised. The following year, the practice of giving women’s names to storms started.

Names were recycled each year until 1960 when it was determined that new names were needed, so a four-year cycle of names was instituted. In the 70s, complaints about the practice of only using women’s names prompted the NHC to include alternating male and female names. Starting in 1979, a woman’s name started the Atlantic season while a man’s name started the Pacific season.

According to Wikipedia, “The World Meteorological Organization now creates and maintains the annual lists. Names are used on a six-year rotation, with the deadliest or most notable storms having their names retired from the rotation.” That means that this year’s hurricanes were last used in 2005, though I imagine the name Katrina will not be making another appearance. This year, K belongs to Katia.

The Wall Street Journal blog, however, finds it ‘eerie’ that Katrina made landfall on 29 August 2005, and Irene is expected to start her assault on New York on 28 August. It also points out some similarities between Irene 2005 and Irene 2011: “It formed in August, became a hurricane and tracked near the Outer Banks of North Carolina. But the 2005 version peaked at Category 2 status and stayed out in the ocean, causing no deaths. Irene 2011 has already strengthened to a Category 3 storm and is expected to hit Category 4 soon.”

Yup. that's what it looked like in August 1992. (Image courtesy of

I’m not entirely sure of what to expect with Irene. We’ve been ‘hit’ by ‘hurricanes’ before, but they’ve often weakened considerably by the time they got this far north, having become what most of us would consider bad thunderstorms. Though I’ve been in earthquakes more significant than the trembles that shook Manhattan earlier this week, I’ve never been in a proper hurricane. The closest I came was in 1992 when Andrew hit southern Florida on the morning of 24 August.  It was a Category 5 when it reached Florida and is considered the 4th strongest landfall in U.S. history. I was 367 miles to the north in Gainesville, FL and just getting to campus for the beginning of my last college semester. The bright sun and gentle breeze made it a lovely morning.

And so, Irene looms over the horizon, either preparing to give us Northerners a taste of what a real hurricane is like, or barking furiously only to reveal a toothless bite. Will Irene be a murderous Byzantine empress or a Greek goddess of peace? We’ll know in the next few days what she has in store for us.

And speaking of stores, I’d better get to one before all the good snacks are gone!

11 thoughts on “Hurricane Ironic?

  1. Where to begin with my comment … the end perhaps? Going to university in Athens, GA, I have a great appreciation for REM. I don’t know much about biology, don’t know much about history … but I do know the lyrics to ‘It’s the end of the world as we know it’.
    And weather … my first love. Though I never wish harm on anyone when nature releases its fury and power, I am always in awe. So, I frequent NOAA’s website, keeping an eye on the track of the hurricanes, storms, etc. And yes, I have NOAA and the Geological Survey bookmarked, so I can keep track of storms, earthquakes, etc.
    Needless to say – I’ve been busy this week.
    May Irene be kind to you and the surrounding areas.

    • Thanks Lenore! I know some people are getting panicky, and honestly I probably would be more nervous if I lived closer to the coast. However, I’m more inland and there are lots of hills that help dissipate the winds. Here we’re more in danger of falling trees than flooding. But I do hope it turns out to be much ado about nothing.

      I’m lucky that my boyfriend is much more interested in weather like you are. I tend to look out the window in the morning and sort of sniff the air and that’s about the extent of it ;)

      It’s also a good thing that I too am fond of REM because otherwise it would totally suck to have that song stuck in my head all weekend long, as it’s sure to be! I still know the words but am out of practice so they don’t come fast enough to sing along with the song. I have a feeling I may be practicing it this weekend though ;)

  2. Hi :) I’ve read some of your posts and think I’ll follow your blog.
    As I started reading this post I thought, well, she is wrong… the Erinyes had nothing to do with peace. But of course, you’re right as you meant Eirene, of whose existence I forgot :) My second association was with the word ‘ire’ but again it probably has no common root. As you can see reading your blog is quite fruitful for me. Best wishes :)

    • Thanks Joela, for the subscription but also for your comment :)

      When I realized that this hurricane shares my maternal grandmother’s name, I had to check what it meant. It’s funny – my family has been Portuguese for centuries and my grandmother, my mother, and I all have names that are more typical of Germany than of Portugal.

      Oh, and here’s a link to the etymology of ‘ire’ which is, as you suspected, unrelated but it’s still a nifty little word!

    • I hope you’re right!

      People here are really not sure what to do with this hurricane. We’re so used to getting all hyped up and then get nothing more than a thunderstorm. At least for summer storms. Winter storms are a different story. in fact, many people I’ve talked to say that it’s strange to get ready for a blizzard in the summer! :)

      Thanks for your comment!

  3. I devoted a chapter and a half of my Charlemagne book to that 8th-century Irene. She was a sharp political operator (until her luck ran out), but you’re right that she was not a kind soul: She ordered her minions to gouge out her own son’s eyes!

    • The stores were out of plain chips, pretzels and Doritos, and a lot of people were buying a case of beer, but luckily I like the small batch stuff that doesn’t come in cases, so I got my supply. It’s a good thing, too, because our power has been out for 24+ hours and counting!

      My grandmother’s name was Irene, too :)

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