Why bullets and bombs don't weaken hurricanes

HOUSTON - During the height of Hurricane Irma as it approached Florida, you may have seen the story in the news asking residents to avoid, "shooting at the hurricane". A Facebook Event page had jokingly been set to ask people to join-in on firing guns from the beach into Irma's outer bands. According to that page, 30,000+ people claimed to have participated and over 56,000 said they were interested. Okay, so maybe it was just a, "buzz-off, Irma" kind of thing, empowering people through taking action in a silly way, but it was notable as an example of how we have an urge not just to dodge danger, but destroy any threats. The best defense is a good offense. While this was discouraged by law enforcement, it was arguably kind of funny. 

While bullets can't stop the weather. Some have asked seriously if bombs could be used. Can the, "MOAB" (Mother of All Bombs, officially, "Massive Ordnance Air Blast") be used? Would its blast yield, equivalent to 11 tons of TNT, do the job? What about a nuke? Could the Tsar Bomba (the largest nuke ever tested) decimate a hurricane's circulation if safely detonated over the ocean with its unthinkable 50 megatons? (That's equivalent to 50,000,000 [50 million] tons of TNT.) No. 

It's a valid question? How can these things be stopped? Unfortunately, nuclear bombs aren't big enough and even if they were, would not stop the cyclonic circulation. A hurricane's low pressure extends for at least a thousand miles across, as evidenced by the size of a system as seen on satellite and its engine is driven by heat. A nuke would only add more heat... The shockwave wouldn't be near big enough compared to the hurricane and might appear as a brief belch on satellite, followed by an absorption of the mushroom cloud into the eye wall. The heat from a nuke may actually briefly enhance the convective processes within one area of the circulation, making it stronger... but it may not even have that effect. Even if you drop a nuke to explode in the atmosphere above the hurricane, in an attempt to heat up the air aloft and force a convection-killing inversion, the effect would only last for a few minutes and the hurricane would churn ahead, uninterrupted.

Of course if you use the nuclear option, you're suddenly dealing with the added hazard of massive amounts of radiological fall-out circulating inside of the hurricane, carrying it to wherever it makes landfall. No good. So, that's out.

The only way to interrupt the circulation of a hurricane is outside of our technological capability. If we could remove the warm water in its path, tropical systems would quickly fall apart. We'd have to cool hundreds of feet of ocean water to below 82°F, and considering most parts of the tropical ocean are pushing 90°F that time of year, we'd have to use some sort of magic and will probably never be able to do this.

If we could manipulate large-scale planetary wind circulations, we could tear hurricanes apart with wind shear. Again, we'll never be able to do this. Even if you line up 1,000 jumbo jets to push air at the storm, you'd never even approach 1% of the needed wind to do any damage.  

Another way to slow a tropical system would be to inject hot, dry air into the storm on a large continental scale, forcing the hurricane to ingest the drying material. It would be like putting sand into the gears of the wet, heat engine. Only problem is that we'd have to set something the size of Texas on fire, and the smoke would be harmful on a global scale. 

Other options like cloud seeding to slow convection have been proposed but there's been no substantial evidence that it has any measurable effect. There have been exotic ideas like, "oiling" of the oceans to prevent evaporation, pulling the carpet out from under a hurricane. Obviously environmental issues come into question ... and when the hurricane moves, you'd have to bring the oil slick along with it.

Brooks
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© 2017 KHOU-TV


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