Each year dozens of people write to the Hurricane Center suggesting new names, mostly their own. This is what Freud might call an infantile wish for omnipotence. Peri Andrews wrote an e-mail in 2000 saying she'd like to see a hurricane named Peri. Jared Rapaport, whose e-mail moniker is Narcism, wanted, you guessed it, Jared. Cheryl Hardeman in 2003 suggested Hurricane Cheryl or the more modest Tropical Storm Lee, after her middle name.
Bruno Benedetti writes in on vanity stationery, adorned with "BRUNOTES" and a sketch of himself in the upper right. "For many years I have offered my name -- BRUNO -- for the new offspring in my family," he writes. "To date, not one has accepted my $100 offer." If the center will name a hurricane after him, he promises to donate that money to charity.
Hurricane Andrew's name was retired after the storm hit Miami 12 years ago.
One man writes in to say "Debby" and "Dolly" are too frivolous for such a grand scale of misery. Someone named Debby writes: "I am VERY ANGRY that a malicious storm has been given my name." Instead she suggests they use nonsense names: Hurricane Doola or Diddly or Dingbat or Duffo or Eeek. "This business of using human names MUST END!" she writes.
To properly reflect the gravity of such weather events, Earl Higgins of Louisiana suggests names such as Hurricane "ANXIETY" and "OMINOUS." Scott Solsman of Ohio offers "Godot," in hopes of seeing the headline: "New York City is Waiting for Godot."
That "might be a tad too tinged in irony . . . or maybe whimsy," Lepore writes back, in one of his many whimsical responses. "But who knows, it might be culturally uplifting."
Usually the writer gets some version of a form letter explaining the standard procedure: The United States is only one of 25 nations that collectively decide on new names at their annual spring meeting. In a typical year there are eight hurricanes and only one that does enough damage to be retired, leaving only a 1-in-8 chance that a new name is needed.
But: "If you want your given name to be eternally associated with death, destruction, human misery, the National Hurricane Center will accept your nomination," Lepore wrote back to Jared and then suggested he contact the International Astronomical Union and ask if it will name a star after him.
Max Mayfield, director of the center, says in the scheme of things he wants to "spend minutes, not hours" on the names. He and the other forecasters have important business to tend to; in the middle of an interview, in fact, he breaks to take a call from the emergency director in North Carolina to ask if there had been any "loss of life" from Alex (there hadn't).
Mayfield's biggest headache came in 2001 when the WMO selected the name Israel, which the members agreed was a nice first name to replace the retired Ismael. There it sat, sandwiched between Henriette and Juliette, until a reporter from the Jerusalem Post in Israel noticed.
"Totally insensitive," Abraham Foxman, president of the Anti-Defamation League, was quoted as saying. "Hostility to the Jewish people," said Mort Klein of the Zionist Organization of America. For days the Hurricane Center was paralyzed by hundreds of angry e-mails and phone calls.
For the first time in hurricane history, Mayfield skipped the normal procedure and called all the member countries. Israel was erased, replaced by Ivo. "You got to know when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em" is how he explains it.
Of all the hurricane name requests in the file, Christine Snovell's is perhaps the most compelling. Snovell had driven to Miami the day before Hurricane Andrew hit. She had moved to Virginia on the day of a tornado watch. And then, a sort of ultimate disaster: In 1999 she arrived for a honeymoon in Australia two days before Cyclone Rona hit and had to escape with her groom to a nearby mall. "I spent thousands of dollars to go to Gap in Australia," she recalled.
"I don't want to say Mother Nature owes me," she wrote to the center three year ago, "but I feel I am due something!"