When reports hit the media that President Donald Trump once asked his advisors about the idea of stopping hurricanes by dropping nuclear weapons on them, the story elicited much discussion and, since the president of the United States is involved, mockery on social media.
However, the idea of nuking hurricanes is an old one and, on the surface, not entirely crazy until one examines the physics.
The idea of destroying a hurricane with a big explosive predates that development of nuclear weapons. Back in the 1930s, some officials in Florida inquired about the possibility of bombing hurricanes with conventional high explosives.
With the advent of the atomic bomb at the end of World War II, the notion of blowing up hurricanes went into high gear. Suggestions were raised in both the Truman and the Eisenhower administrations to use nuclear weapons to save lives and property rather than annihilate them.
The short answer, according to climate expert, is that exploding a nuclear device inside a hurricane would not work.
The energy that a hurricane produces is too great for even a nuclear device to affect. Nuking a hurricane would make things worse by adding radioactive fallout to the mix.
President Trump, by the way, has denied even suggesting using nuclear bombs to deal with hurricanes. He has labeled such reports as “fake news.”
The fact that people would want to harness the awesome energy of nuclear bombs to destroy hurricanes is understandable. Currently, the only things one can do concerning hurricanes is to track them, flee when they come near where one lives or else hunker down, and then repair the damage and bury the dead after they blow themselves out. However, nuclear weapons would not work, but another method might.
Vox notes that scientists have been trying to destroy, stop, and degrade hurricanes for decades, using less spectacular methods than setting off nukes.
“Much of the research is focused on manipulating temperature, moisture, and wind to steer when and where these storms will occur. It involves geoengineering with giant tubes and aerosols. And it’s pretty intriguing, if still quite preliminary.”
One experiment that was first attempted in the 1940s involved seeding a hurricane with ice. The idea was that cooling the hurricane would expand the eye and eventually collapse the storm.
The experiments proved to be ineffective. Scientists at NOAA eventually concluded that hurricanes contained too much natural ice and too little supercooled water for seeding to work.
Another idea is to chill the water around hurricane-prone areas to deprive storms of the warm water that could provide the storms with energy, developed by an engineering professor named Stephan Salter.
“For ocean temperatures, the magic number for hurricane formation is 26.5 degrees Celsius (or 79.7 degrees Fahrenheit). So what if you could nudge that number down early on and reduce the risks and intensities of ensuing storms?
That was what Salter set out to do.
“To cool the surface of the ocean, Salter invented a wave-powered pump that would move warm surface water down to depths as far as about 650 feet. Made from a ring of tires lashed together around a tube extending below the surface, waves would overtop the ring, pushing the column of water down, while a check valve in the tube would keep it from flowing back.”
Salter developed another idea, involving manipulating clouds.
“Salter’s other tactic for fighting hurricanes is making clouds a tiny bit brighter using aerosols, harnessing a phenomenon called the Twomey effect. This is the observation that for clouds containing the same amount of moisture, the clouds with smaller suspended water droplets reflect more sunlight.”
“The increased sunlight reflectance in the sky would keep the waters below from warming up to the hurricane threshold while also curbing evaporation, thereby reducing the atmospheric moisture needed to make a storm.”
The idea is to use boats to spray water droplets into the sky over hurricane-prone areas to create shiner clouds and thus inhibit the formation of the destructive storms.
Perhaps the wildest idea for stopping hurricanes was published in a 2004 paper in Scientific America. The idea involved seeding the storms with silver iodide, then using a satellite designed to use solar energy and transmits microwaves to a receiver on Earth to convert into electricity.
Hurricanes could be diverted by beaming the microwaves to one side of them, causing them to move safely away from populated areas to chillier waters where they would dissipate.
When President Trump mused about using nukes or not, he may have stumbled onto more useful ways to deal with hurricanes. If some research and development creates good hurricane mitigation technology, untold lives and property could be saved in the future.