One of my predecessors on The Sun's copy desk, Bob Grover, once briskly called for a halt to "silly pointless hair-splitting debates." It was futile, of course; copy editors live for silly pointless hair-splitting debates. The late storm the weather service* called "Sandy" provides the occasion for just such a debate.
Sandy started out, as such storms do, as a tropical depression, freshening into a tropical storm and ultimately taking on the status of hurricane. It was as Hurricane Sandy roaring through the Caribbean and heading for the East Coast of the United States that it came into the news. Once it made landfall, it was the source of enormous trouble for residents of New York, New Jersey, and several other states.
It also became a problem for copy editors: What term should be used for it?
When it hit New Jersey, you see, its winds fell below hurricane strength and it was no longer a hurricane, and not a tropical storm, but a "post-tropical cyclone." So, in the interest of precision, a news story could only call it "Hurricane Sandy" while it was still out to sea. In writing about the flooding and power outages in New York and New Jersey, or the high tides at Ocean City, or the heavy snowfall in Western Maryland and West Virginia, it was necessary to call it something other than a hurricane. (This remind you of scholastic philosophers arguing about essences?)
Post-Tropical Cyclone Sandy? Cyclone Sandy?
We had already determined at The Sun not to call it a "Frankenstorm." I appreciate the technical sense that, like Mr. Frankenstein's creation, it was assembled from various parts, but it still sounded flippant, particularly in the context of the suffering it was to cause. Television news took up "Superstorm Sandy," for the Action Comics tone, and several newspapers followed suit.
Or you could just call it "Sandy," which we did for a while. Sandy. Criminy, sounds like a Peanuts character palling around with Peppermint Patty and Marcie.
After a while, I just let references to "Hurricane Sandy" through. It was in its stage as a hurricane that the storm built up the strength for all its subsequent damage, and it is as "Hurricane Sandy" that it is likely to be remembered and referred to, even if it was not technically a hurricane when it devastated much of the Northeast. The technicality can be and should be explained in context in the articles.
Clarity and consistency of naming should trump a finicky and pedantic precision.
*All right, all right, the hurricane center, not the weather service.
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