944: Hurricane Names
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) gives names to hurricanes, going through the alphabet and resetting at "A" at the beginning of the year. For example, the North Atlantic hurricanes in 2012 were named "Alberto", "Beryl", "Chris", "Debby", and so on. When the alphabet is exhausted, 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 hurricanes in one season to exhaust both the English and Greek alphabet, and Randall is hypothesizing what the names would be if this happened. In the comic, the WMO 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 title text takes this already surreal twist to an even more ridiculous extreme; Randall now makes a joke about set theory. The impossibly long hurricane season exceeds 300,000+ storms, thus exhausting the OED completely, so the WMO starts numbering them 1, 2, 3, 4, etc. This countably infinite supply of hurricane names works until the number of hurricanes becomes uncountably infinite. A set is countably infinite if it can be mapped one-to-one to the set of natural numbers; for example the set of all integers and the set of all rational numbers are both countably infinite, which means that it is possible to number them with natural numbers. However, by a trick called Cantor diagonalization, it's possible to prove that the set of real numbers is uncountably infinite. As points are formed using real numbers and thus there are an uncountably infinite number of hurricanes, the WMO's plan to number them fails.
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.
- [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.