944: Hurricane Names
In the North Atlantic Ocean, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) gives names to tropical cyclones (of which hurricanes are a subset), going through the alphabet (excluding Q, U, X, Y, and Z) and resetting at "A" at the beginning of the year. For example, the North Atlantic storms in 2012 were named "Alberto", "Beryl", "Chris", "Debby", and so on. There are six lists of names, which rotate every six years. Storms which are extremely catastrophic are removed from the lists.
If there are more than 21 hurricanes in a season, the 21-letter alphabet becomes exhausted and the hurricanes are named with Greek letters. This has happened only once, in 2005; see The Saga of Epsilon and Zeta.
There have never been enough cyclones in one season to exhaust both the English and Greek alphabet (which would require more than 45 cyclones in a season; the most so far has been 27), and Randall is hypothesizing what the names would be if this happened. In the comic, the NHC has named the hurricanes using random words out of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). The humor here is intrinsic: "Hurricane Eggbeater" is a bizarre and hilarious name (and may also refer to how an eggbeater spins and 'destroys' an egg in a similar manner to how a hurricane might affect the surrounding area). The place in the image shown is the Gulf of Mexico and its surroundings, with the land being white, and the ocean, black.
The title text takes this already surreal twist to an even more ridiculous extreme, where an impossibly long hurricane season exceeds 300,000+ storms and exhausts the OED completely. Even when the WMO starts referring to them using counting numbers, which will be sufficient to cover an infinite number of hurricanes, they are foiled by a theorem in set theory. In mathematics, the set of all counting numbers is a countable set (as are the set of all integers or all fractions) whereas the set of all points on a surface is an uncountable set (as is the set of all real numbers). Cantor diagonalization is a famous proof that it is impossible to map objects from an uncountable set one-to-one with objects from a countable set. Applying this theorem to hurricanes, if there were to be one hurricane for every possible point on Earth's surface, it would be impossible to assign a distinct counting number to each one. This of course defeats WMO's last-resort naming scheme, but more pertinently, human civilization would be in a lot of trouble.
At this point, the meteorologists give up and decide to name all the hurricanes "Steve", which is popular on the internet as an arbitrary, generic name. Ironically, this makes "Steve" no longer arbitrary. The reporter then goes on to tell people that their forecast is "Steve" meaning that the hurricanes are everywhere.
- [A weather reporter sits behind a desk with an image of the Gulf of Mexico and surrounding land masses displayed to his left. 9 hurricane symbols are scattered across the map, primarily over Cuba.]
- Reporter: After the latest wave of hurricanes, not only have we run through the year's list of 21 names, but we've also used up the backup list of Greek letters. All subsequent storms will be named using random dictionary words.
- Reporter: The newly-formed system in the gulf has been designated "Hurricane Eggbeater", and we once again pray this is the final storm of this horrible, horrible season.
- There actually was once a Cyclone Steve in the Australian Basin.
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