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Hurricane Napoleon?

Angus Lind Newhouse News Service

If my buddy Earl Higgins had his way, the first storm of the 2005 hurricane season would have been named Zapata, not Arlene. Higgins believes, as do I, that the nature of storms dictates that their names should strike fear in the hearts of those who are in the storms’ path.

Arlene? Gimme a break. What comes to mind? Arlene Dahl, the once stunning redheaded actress who was married six times and is the mother of actor Lorenzo Lamas? The late Arlene Francis, star of stage and screen best known as a 25-year panelist on the quiz show “What’s My Line?”

Yeah, that’s flat terrifying, Arlene.

Now Zapata — as in “Viva Zapata!” — is the name of the Mexican revolutionary general who led the army of the south during the Mexican Revolution while Pancho Villa headed up the northern revolutionary army. Zapata or Arlene — who’s scarier? You make the call.

Wait, you’re starting the first storm with a Z, not an A, you might ask? Correctomundo, my friend.

About a month and a half ago, Higgins fired off a letter to Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

“Dear Maximum Director Max,” it began. “The usual suspects have been rounded up and placed on the list of names, dull and prosaic as usual. Also as usual, the names begin with A and proceed to W, skipping Q and U. I am so old that I remember when tropical storms had no names.

“The original purpose of the names, I recall, was to get the public to pay more attention to the forecasts and to educate them. This system has been in place for over 50 years and has become boring — an adjective signifying a kiss of death in contemporary popular culture.”

So, as a civic-minded citizen aware of the importance of public service and safety, Higgins prepared an alternative list of tropical storm/hurricane names for this season.

“Alternative,” he pointed out, is a hot button, a buzzword in today’s world, with the advent of alternative music, alternative schools, alternative medicine, alternative lifestyles, etc.

So why not alternative storm names?

To avoid further boredom, his list starts backwards with the aforementioned Zapata. He goes from Z to A, bypassing the irksome Q. And his theme suits deadly storms: great warriors and violent men in history.

While some are somewhat obscure, here are a few that should be mentioned:

Villa: As in Zapata’s northern counterpart. Gen. Pancho Villa led Gen. John Pershing on a wild goose chase and became a Mexican legend.

Urban: As in Pope Urban IV, a 14th century pope described as vile, ill-tempered and violent. An “alcoholic madman,” he tortured those who disagreed with him.

Tecumseh: Storied and fierce leader of the Shawnees. So revered was he that the parents of Gen. William T. Sherman gave their son the Indian warrior’s middle name.

Shaka-Zulu: Brilliant and fierce African warrior who created the Zulu nation as a warrior culture. Perhaps the most famous South African in history.

Napoleon: No explanation needed.

Hannibal: As in Hannibal Barca of Carthage, possibly the greatest soldier and strategist of the ancient world. Famed for marching his men and his armored war elephants through the Alps to literally trample the Romans. Those still alive were slaughtered by his African warriors. Hurricane Hannibal — does that have a ring to it, or what?

Now, when you put those names alongside Brett and Cindy, and Emily and Gert, not to mention Irene and Maria, Ophelia and Phillipe, what’s your reaction?

Rita? No way. Wilma? You gotta be kidding. Dennis? A good name for a menace, but not for a hurricane.

Tammy? Say it ain’t so. All I can think of is Debbie Reynolds in that corny “Tammy and the Bachelor” movie, singing “I hear the cottonwoods whisp’rin’ above/Tammy! Tammy! Tammy’s in love!/The ole hootie owl hootie-hoos to the dove/Tammy! Tammy! Tammy’s in love!”

Hurricane Tammy? Come on, Max — I know it’s too late to change the names this year, but there’s plenty of time for 2006, even if you’ve already made the list.

Besides, my buddy Higgins sent them to you free of charge. And he even sent you a nice wish:

“Hoping your isobars will stay far apart, I am, very truly yours, Earl Higgins.”

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