TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Whenever a hurricane looks poised to make its way toward the United States, it’s a good bet that theories and suggestions will do the rounds from people who believe the storm has been stopped, weakened or Could be driven out to sea – but are any of them crazy enough to work?
From the bizarre to the realistic, some of the ideas thrown around every hurricane season involve using bombs, icebergs, fans, or chemical compounds to combat storms. Why wouldn’t any of these methods work? The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration states on its website: “As carefully reasoned as some of these proposals are, they all suffer from the same flaw: they fail to recognize the size and power of tropical cyclones.”
Here are some of the most common suggestions made by meteorologists and scientists on how to stop a hurricane—and why they wouldn’t work:
Suggestion 1: Drop a bomb into a hurricane
One idea that gets thrown around quite a bit is to nuke a hurricane to destroy it. According to NOAA, the question comes up at least once every hurricane season — so often that the agency refutes the idea Frequently Asked Questions Page.
“Aside from the fact that this may not even change the storm, this approach neglects the issue that released radioactive fallout would travel fairly rapidly with trade winds to affect land areas and cause devastating environmental problems,” NOAA explains. “Needless to say, that’s not a good idea.”
The agency goes on to explain that it would take an extreme amount of energy to attempt to bomb-modify Hurricanes.
“The heat dissipation [of a fully developed hurricane] equivalent to a 10-megaton nuclear bomb detonating every 20 minutes,” says NOAA.
Suggestion 2: Cool the Atlantic with ice
One of Key ingredients a tropical cyclone needs to form is warm sea surface temperatures. For this reason, we see the most tropical activity – and typically the strongest storms – in August and September, when water temperatures are at their warmest.
So why can’t we just cool the Atlantic or the Gulf of Mexico with icebergs? As Tracking the Tropics meteorologist Rebecca Barry puts it, it would be like dropping an ice cube into a bathtub.
According to NOAA, the “critical region” targeted by this theory would be near the eyewall of a hurricane.
“If the wall of the eye was 30 miles in diameter, that means an area of nearly 2,000 square miles. Now, if the hurricane is moving at 10 miles per hour, it will sweep over 7,200 square miles of ocean. That’s a lot of icebergs for just 24 hours of the cyclone’s life,” NOAA said.
Additionally, the agency says it doesn’t even take into account the uncertainty of a storm’s wake.
Suggestion 3: Replicate Saharan Dust
While tropical activity isn’t ruled out in the early months of hurricane season, clouds of dust originating in the Sahara and moving across the Atlantic help keep things calmer early in the season. That’s because tropical systems need moisture to form and strengthen – and the Saharan dust is very dry.
If Saharan dust helps keep things calm and prevent storms from getting stronger, some might wonder why we can’t just replicate this dust for use during the busier months of hurricane season. Unfortunately it’s not that simple.
Think of Saharan dust as a symptom rather than a cause of the calm conditions in the tropics, says Barry. The dust itself does not suppress tropical activity, but several large-scale factors that must come together for the dust to be present in higher concentrations and to migrate across the Atlantic.
“Things like large areas of dry, stable air across the Atlantic, brisk upper-level winds to carry the dust, and a broad-based weather pattern that produces dust storms over the Sahara. When we see Saharan dust it’s a sign of a larger weather pattern that isn’t conducive to tropical development, it’s not the dust itself that’s causing the effect,” Barry explained. “If we released huge amounts of dust over the Atlantic, there would be slushy rain, but that’s about it.”
Not to mention the sheer volume that would be required to replicate a Saharan dust plume would be extremely difficult to replicate to scale.
Suggestion 4: Use wind turbines to fuel the storm
When Hurricane Irma swept through Florida in 2017, tens of thousands of people attended a Facebook event and vowed to alert their fans to the storm and blow it away.
“Everyone takes their fans outside and points them at Hurricane Irma to blow it away from us,” the organizer said. “Air compressors with air gun attachments are also a plus, or anything else. Get creative.”
Although the event was a joke, some may wonder – why can’t we use something like wind turbines to drive out hurricanes? Once again, it’s all about the sheer size and power of a storm.
“Nothing we can produce on our human scale can match the energy and size of a hurricane,” Barry said. “It would be like poking a giant storm with a needle, practically non-existent compared to the amount of energy and power of the storms.”
Suggestion 5: Cloud seeding
Beginning in the early 1960s through the early 1980s, the US government conducted an experimental program called Project STORMFURY with the goal of hurricane modification using chemical compounds.
“The proposed modification technique involved artificially stimulating convection outside the eyewall by seeding with silver iodide,” according to the Hurricane Research Division of NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory explained on his website.
NOAA says, “The STORMFURY purposefully seeded convective clouds just outside the hurricane’s eyewall to form a new cloud ring that would hopefully compete with and weaken the storm’s natural circulation.”
According to NOAA, the project attempted to alter four hurricanes on eight different days. Winds decreased 10 to 30 percent on half of those days, but the results of the experimental program were later questioned and discarded due to what NOAA calls a “fatal error.”
“Observations from the 1980’s showed that most hurricanes do not have enough supercooled water for STORMFURY seeding to work – the buoyancy in hurricane convection is quite small and the updrafts correspondingly small compared to the type seen in continental super-Or at mid-latitudes would observe multicells”, NOAA says on its FAQ website. “Additionally, it was found that unseeded hurricanes form natural outer eyewalls, just as the STORMFURY scientists expected seeded ones to do.”
Follow the tropical currents every Wednesday during hurricane season. Check our for the latest updates Tracking the Tropics website.
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