Miami – The National Hurricane Center today announced it would be taking unprecedented action to head off a looming problem: the exhaustion of all non-silly names for major future storms.
Up until now, the Hurricane Center has recycled names as necessary, with the exception of especially devastating storms like Rita and Katrina, whose names have been retired. Forecasters fear, however, that with the predicted upsurge in hurricane activity, a crisis in absurdity is looming.
"No one wants to be in a storm named 'Edouard' or have their home flooded by a 'Wilfred,' noted National Hurricane Center director Bill Read, "and no one wants to see names like that retired as part of our permanent record." Both monikers appear on the 2008 list of worldwide tropical cyclone names.
Instead, the agency, with the approval of the Bush administration, is turning to corporate sponsorship. Companies will be able to sponsor hurricanes, affixing their brand to the storm. A sliding pricing scale will be assessed for sponsorship rights, with the catastrophic Category Five hurricanes commanding fees hundreds of times greater than those of the relatively minor Category One storms.
"We took a look at Hurricane Katrina and just thought, 'What if that had been Hurricane Nike?'" recalls Mark Parker, president and CEO of the leisure footwear giant. "We realized there was a missed opportunity to really put our footprint on the American psyche, especially considering the local sports tie-in opportunities with the Superdome."
Without revealing the details of negotiations, spokespersons for Nike, McDonalds and several other blue-chip corporations have confirmed they are working with the Hurricane Center to secure advanced naming rights for any Category Five storms that may develop in 2008.
Lower-tier corporations, such as K-Mart, would be more likely to bid on smaller storms, said Lisa Kirk, managing editor of PRWeek. "Even if you end up sponsoring a minor storm that maybe just capsizes a small boat of immigrants somewhere in the Caribbean, that will still generate a multi-day news cycle," she noted.
Other alternatives for smaller companies might be seeking co-sponsor arrangements for major storms with other companies, although the Hurricane Center said that multiple naming rights would add a layer of complexity.
The storm season began June 1 and runs through November. Experts predict there will be 15 named storms, nine hurricanes and four "intense" hurricanes in 2008.