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08 September 2007

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

Hey everybody, Jerry, Karen, Melissa and Wendy are coming to visit! Cool yeah? I mean, pretty much everybody likes to have visitors. But just hold on a minute, before you rush off to shops to get something nice for dinner, maybe there’s one thing that you should know about our guests. You see, the problem here is that when they actually do come rapping on your front door, then the chances are that the door will smash through the lounge and pin you to wall before you can say ‘come in’.

These are some of the names that the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) have decided should be given to a selection of the hurricanes that will likely batter and bruise the US Atlantic coast during the coming 2007 season. They’ve been doing this since 1953 (naming hurricanes), the idea being that short distinctive names are "quicker and less subject to error than the older more cumbersome latitude-longitude identification methods." No argument there then, and neither can we disagree that this is especially important when exchanging detailed storm information between the hundreds of widely scattered stations, coastal bases, and ships at sea. So phew, the scientists and professionals have been clearly informed, now what about the rest of us?

How are we, the people who aren't aware of the meteorological intricacies of a hurricane supposed to react to the news that Felix is coming? Probably we all know from popular culture that Felix is a cat name. Also he is not a big cat like an escaped tiger; he’s an amazingly cuddly cartoon cat. Sort of deceiving, don't you think? These magnificent forces of nature with friendly names won’t be sound so amazing when sitting in a deep safe bunker somewhere, wowing our colleagues with satellite images of a ‘perfect’ storm. We’ll be waist high in water and debris, screaming the names of loved ones into the ravaging winds. We won’t be watching the mathematical data as it streams and twists into virtual chaos. We’ll be watching crackling reports from the nearby, broken community that has already been visited. We’ll know that we’re next.

The personification of hurricanes is wrong. If the WMO really want to warn people about what is happening, and not just track them efficiently, then sure, stick with the alphabetical listing (after all, I wouldn’t presume to suggest anything that would screw up your filing system) but how about starting with ‘Aaaarghhhh, run for your lives’. Admittedly, not as catchy as Andrew but it gets your attention don’t you think? Okay, I am stretching the point here but it is still a point worth making.

Oh, and one more thing before I run for the hills. On the subject of categories, use your imagination Mr Weatherman! Five isn’t scary enough to alert people. Five billion is. If you want to make sure everyone gets on the highways in plenty of time, think big.

This article was written by Andy Tilley, author of Recycling Jimmy. It is "an outrageous romp into 'suicide for profit' and the darkest aspects of human nature, told with brilliant black humor and a zest for life." You can find out more about his novel from his site. If you are interested in contributing to the thinking process and become a guest writer on The Thinking Blog, find out more information here and be my guest!

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