Could Neutralizing the Might of Hurricanes Lead to Disaster?

Sunshine over RainbandPhoto: NOAA

In the 1960s and early 1970s, government funded scientists embarked on a program called “Project Stormfury” which attempted to disperse the fury of hurricanes before they came ashore. The plan was to disrupt the convection currents of hurricanes by seeding them with silver iodide crystals. Unfortunately, the plan did not work.

Since then, other imaginative ideas have been put forward in an attempt to neutralize storms. Towing an iceberg into position to cool ocean surface waters, dumping dry ice in the hurricane’s path, or using high volume pumps to replace warm surface water with cool deep water. Other ideas include use of nuclear warheads or perhaps the sonic booms of high performance jet aircraft to disrupt the hurricane’s air heat exchange system, or even cloud seeding during the earliest signs of a storm to stop it before it grows.

More recently, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) offered to invest $2.6 million over three years to move forward with studies on how hurricane management might be achieved. DHS, working in conjunction with the American Meteorological Society, asked a veteran of “Project Stormfury” to again gather experts and to evaluate the prospects for controlling or taming hurricanes.

Isidore Up ClosePhoto: NOAA

The established panel used more current climate information to weigh the benefits and risks of such a project and to offer an assessment of expectation from such a project. They reported their findings at an American Meteorological Society meeting on weather modification in Westminster, Colorado, in April 2008.

The report they issued carried something of a warming for would-be hurricane fighters and cyclone opponents. Stopping future Katrina’s before they start needs some careful thinking before actions are taken. Hurricanes, like all tropical storms, thunderstorms and other weather phenomena, serve a useful purpose in the Earth’s energy budget. They are an important mechanism for heat distribution around the planet.

Hurricanes, in particular, act to remove the heat from ocean surface waters. They do this by pulling warm surface water into the atmosphere, cooling it, and then precipitating it back to the Earth’s surface, effectively accelerating the water cycle. They do this without having to draw substantial quantities of cool water from ocean depths to the surface.