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Looking into the eye of another hurricane season [commentary]

I know at least one person on the list this year, and at least one person on the list every year through 2018, but I'm pleased to say I'm not on any of the lists.

What I'm talking about is the list of personal names to be given to strong, cyclonic storms over the next few years worth of Atlantic hurricane seasons.

It's a rather dubious distinction to share a name with a particularly powerful storm. I don't know it first-hand, though it appears there was a storm named Jim a few years back, it appears to have been on the Pacific side, so I missed it and wasn't paying attention.

A storm I remember like it was just last summer, though was one that is legendary in these parts: Hurricane Agnes. That storm shared a name with my mother, and, like I said, it was a rather dubious honor. Back in June of 1972 when the storm was headed north along the Atlantic Coast, my family was headed south on a camping vacation that would take in Disney World and the Great Smokey Mountains.

It was bad enough that my immediate family was subjected to the edges of the storm as we and the storm crossed paths, but my mom's family — my grandparents, aunts and an uncle — called Harrisburg, Pa., home. For those too young to realize the significance of this, Harrisburg was to Agnes what New Orleans was to Katrina a few years back. For years after the storm, its destruction lingered in Harrisburg. I am old enough to have memories of what the riverside parts of the city were like before and after the storm. Anyone who has visited Pennsylvania's capital city in the decades since that storm is probably aware there's an old steel bridge – the Walnut Street Bridge – that spans the Susquehanna River that is for pedestrians only. Back before the flood, it was also used by cars, though it was fairly rickety in antediluvian times.

The devastation was pretty substantial, and in my mind it's only been in the past decade and a half that Harrisburg has really begun to get back on its feet.

Before I get too sidetracked here, my point is that the Agnes storm is one that's always held a special place in my mind and generally in the minds of my mother's side of the family.

So I'm not really sure how the tradition of naming storms after people came about and I don't really care all that much. I do remember in the days when storms were always named after women, there were plenty of men who were willing to make the sexist statement that it had to do with unpredictability.

What is predictable, though, is this business of naming the storms. Curiously, the National Weather Service, which is in charge of coming up with lists of storm names (who wouldn't love that job?) is in the habit of retiring names after they are assigned to particularly memorable storms. Among the 50 or so retired names are Katrina, Hazel, Camille, Dennis, Felix and my favorite, Agnes.

Here we are, well into the meat of the Atlantic hurricane season, and it's pretty quiet as of this writing, which was done last week when the National Weather Service was showing a minor disturbance off the tip of Florida. That doesn't mean we won't end up getting a tropical storm swat down before the end of the season rolls around in November. I can remember some pretty heavy rains dropping out of the sky as the remnants of named storms passed over Maryland well into October.

As far as I'm concerned, none of them really need to be named, any more than big snow storms are named. Then again, it might be interesting to have a storm named James or Jim or something like that, just for sport.

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