Nuking Hurricanes

August 26th, 2019 by Roy W. Spencer, Ph. D.

There is a story going around that President Trump once suggested using nuclear weapons to weaken hurricanes before they hit land. While he has denied it, the idea has actually been batted around for years.

A less radioactive idea, called Project Stormfury, was carried out by the U.S. Government for about twenty years starting in the early 1960s. Aircraft seeded hurricane clouds with silver iodide in an attempt to strengthen the outer portions of the storm in hopes of weakening the intense storm core.

The project was a failure because it was learned that hurricanes already efficiently convert the available cloud water to precipitation anyway, throughout the storm. The hurricane doesn’t respond to seeding with silver iodide.

What Fuels a Hurricane?

I’ve found that there is a general lack of appreciation of just how much energy nature uses in weather systems. Hurricanes are, of course, an example of an accumulation of a lot of energy that is organized into a single weather system with dramatic effects.

That energy was accumulated over many sunny days and weeks as huge expanses of ocean soaked up tropical sunshine and warmed. The hurricane circulation then draws upon that pent-up energy. The tropical oceans nearly everywhere have the energy required to fuel a hurricane; what is usually missing is an atmospheric disturbance with low wind shear throughout the depth of the troposphere so that the heat produced by rain clouds isn’t just blown away rather than concentrated into a small geographic area.

How About Nuking that Hurricane?

Let’s use the example of the B83 nuclear weapon, which is considered “the most modern nuclear bomb in the U.S. arsenal“. The bomb has an energy yield of 1.2 megatons of TNT.

The average hurricane releases that much energy every 10 seconds.

So, the hurricane probably wouldn’t care that much about a brief nuclear kick in the shins. (The idea of spreading all of that radioactivity would not go over very well with the public, either.)

But let’s say we had hundreds or even thousands of megaton-class weapons that were cheap and did not produce dangerous radiation. What could be done to weaken a hurricane?

The most fundamental problem with trying to weaken a hurricane is that hurricanes are driven by heat release, and these bombs would just add more heat to the storm, potentially making it worse. As mentioned above, in a hurricane, water vapor condenses into clouds and rain, releasing latent heat, which warms the troposphere and causes intense low pressure at the surface, leading to strong surface winds.

I suspect the idea would be to release the bomb energy in portions of the storm that could — theoretically — disrupt the inner core (the eyewall) where most of the hurricane damage occurs. But adding large amounts of heat energy could result in unforeseen strengthening of the core hours later. Who knows? It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.


54 Responses to “Nuking Hurricanes”

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  1. ren says:

    A tropical storm reaches the Caribbean. Can reach hurricane strength.
    https://www.tropicaltidbits.com/sat/satlooper.php?region=catl&product=wv-mid

  2. Scott R says:

    Wow 1 nuclear bomb has the energy release of only 10 seconds of an average hurricane. That is unbelievable.

    • Nate says:

      Yeah a bit surprising.

      “Within a 6-km (3.7-mile) radius of a 1-megaton bomb, blast waves will produce 180 tonnes of force on the walls of all two-storey buildings, and wind speeds of 255 km/h (158 mph).”

      Whereas a hurricane will do that for few hours over ~ 20 km radius, and less on much larger radius.

  3. Nate says:

    Great picture!

    Slim Pickens on the bomb is a memorable scene from Dr Strangelove.

  4. ken says:

    So we need an endothermic reaction instead of the exothermic reaction such as nuclear bombs provide. Imagine if we could funnel all that power into a storage battery.

  5. Reziac says:

    So what’s the energy mismatch for trying to blow up a tornado?

  6. Milton Hathaway says:

    It is interesting how we humans tend to greatly exaggerate our influence on the planet. After hearing the claim that tidal energy is a renewable resource, I got to wondering. If 100% of the entire energy consumption of all humans on the planet came from tidal generators, how much would we slow down the earth’s rotation? Intuition says it would be a tiny amount, but after running the numbers I was still astounded at just how tiny.

    • Ken says:

      Its tiny but its not renewable. There is no way to speed earth’s rotation. Tidal energy is the worst idea; global warming like a chicken on a rotisserie. Slow it down too much and eventually the chicken gets burned on one side.

  7. gbaikie says:

    Giant pumice raft from underwater volcanic eruption makes its way to Great Barrier Reef
    –In this 150-odd square kilometres of pumice out there right now, theres probably billions to trillions of pieces of pumice all floating together and each piece of pumice is a vehicle for some marine organism, he said.

    He said pieces of pumice should start washing up along Australias coastline in seven to 12 months.–
    https://tallbloke.wordpress.com/2019/08/26/giant-pumice-raft-from-underwater-volcanic-eruption-makes-its-way-to-great-barrier-reef/#more-43806

  8. Stephen P Anderson says:

    That’s why Trump keeps kicking their ass-he thinks outside the box.

    • Entropic man says:

      How can Trump kick anybody’s ass with both left feet stuck in his mouth?

      • gbaikie says:

        Trump has huuge talent!

        • captain droll says:

          Only in his own mind

          • gbaikie says:

            No, it takes true talent to kick anybody’s ass with both left feet stuck in your mouth.
            He won an election that all experts said was not likely.
            He has media constantly obsessed about everything he says.
            And he has lots Americans- Over 95% of the Republican party which approves how doing his job.

            He so talented, that he somehow got the Lefty media to hand him the election. And they are insanely opposed to him.

            That is buckets of talent.

          • captain droll says:

            LOL. Very funny!

    • professor P says:

      “he thinks outside the box”
      Just like my patients do here at the asylum.

  9. ren says:

    A tropical storm collects energy from the warm West Atlantic.
    https://www.tropicaltidbits.com/sat/satlooper.php?region=nwatl&product=vis-swir

  10. JK says:

    Can you debunk Sharknado next time? Or maybe Zombie Tidal Wave? 😉

  11. Stevek says:

    I think nuking hurricanes is just a clever way to take out Cuba. Just wait for one that is heading to the USA to cross Cuba and then fire off the nukes.

    • studentb says:

      Nino 1+2 index has risen to above +0.3 degC.

    • Scott R says:

      I saw that Ren. Interesting that the 1+2 region has warmed above baseline after being the cold spot for so long just as the 3.4 region finally drops. Somehow 3.4 is colder than either 3 or 4 by itself. The cold water upwelling must have shifted from the 1+2 area over to the border of 3 and 4. We will definitely have to keep an eye on this. If the 3.4 value holds for several months, they will have to declare a la nina. lol

      The 3.4 region for whatever reason has the largest impact on our weather… or at least it leads out weather after 4 months delay.

        • Scott R says:

          Ren,

          Wow how about that… it’s below baseline!

          This is where we were at for the last 3 HADSTT3 monthly readings:

          NH May: +0.605 C
          NH June: +0.7774 C
          NH July: +0.9354 C

          SH May: +0.4388 C
          SH June: +0.3375 C
          SH July: +0.3653 C

          Globe May: +0.5215
          Globe June: +0.5456
          Globe July: +0.6286

          The recent high for the globe was December 2015 @ +0.7432.
          The recent low for the globe was November 2017 @ +.3344

          The recent high for NH was August 2015 @ +0.9755
          The recent low for NH was November 2017 @ +0.4692

          The recent high for SH was Feb 2016 @ +0.7401
          The recent low for SH was Aug 2017 @ 0.237

          A global drop to 0.3 C is a fresh low for us.

          A SH drop to -0.1 is a fresh low for us.

          The NH is still holding up for now. Still experiencing the El Nino 3.6 yr harmonic effects, but should disappear within 3-4 months tops.

          The average will not be the same for these databases. HADSTT3 uses the average from 1850-present while your link is showing 1971-2000. I’ll have to investigate this information further as daily readings could be handy, although we don’t want to be too quick to jump to conclusions from 1 day of data.

          • ren says:

            Scott R, look at the insolation of the oceans in the north in July.
            https://www.ospo.noaa.gov/data/atmosphere/radbud/swar19_prd.gif

          • Scott R says:

            Ren,

            To be honest I’m not sure what you are getting at here. The NH will always have a higher absolute radiation budget in July will it not? Maybe I need to see a departure map to know why you are pointing this map out to me.

            We can use the ocean departure temperatures as a good proxy for energy in the system as a whole. Based on your recent spot check of the data, it appears there has been a significant, recent energy loss in the SH and so far the NH has not responded much.

        • ren says:

          The surface temperature of the area of the ocean does not change so quickly and largely depends on the circulation in the upper troposphere (jet streams).
          https://earth.nullschool.net/#2019/08/28/1800Z/wind/isobaric/700hPa/overlay=mean_sea_level_pressure/orthographic=-139.95,-13.05,390/loc=-137.435,-15.717

        • ren says:

          If the high remains above the ocean, then the temperature rises stronger due to high evaporation.

  12. studentb says:

    A sudden stratospheric warming event is occurring near the south pole this week, a rare phenomenon that could affect weather patterns in the southern hemisphere during the opening weeks of spring:
    https://www.weatherzone.com.au/news/sudden-stratospheric-warming-what-it-means-for-australia/530135

    • JDHuffman says:

      This morning the SP polar vortex had peak wind speed over 320 mph (515 kph).

      That’s a pretty serious upper-level “hurricane”!

  13. ren says:

    “Strong sudden stratospheric warming events can cause a vortex of cold polar air that usually sits locked above Antarctica – aptly named the polar vortex – to temporarily move away from from the south pole and drift into the mid-latitudes (towards the equator).”
    https://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/intraseasonal/temp50anim.gif

  14. Alick says:

    Loads and loads of dry ice dumped into a hurricane to absorb so much energy as to calm the storm. A football field size block of dry ice ten meters high would probably not be enough.

  15. Stephen P Anderson says:

    Have you guys gotten this one yet?

    Stephen — The Amazon continues to burn. Reports indicate Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro authorized the fires in a profit-over-people move for the beef industry. Motivated to save lives — animal and human — Twilight actor and Shark Tank participant Alexander Mendeluk launched a petition asking the United Nations to step in to address this global emergency before it’s too late. Without your help, innocent animals and the air we breathe are at risk. Sign now.

  16. Nicholas McGinley says:

    A storm in my brain from many years ago:
    Huge cargo planes \sprinkle massive amounts of hydrogel into the main feeder bands at a critical time as the storm approaches land.
    Sucks up moisture, disrupting the storm.
    Hey, worth a try.
    The way I see it, if they had thought of this and tried it, or if they have tried it and are actually doing it, it seems possible if not likely they would not be telling anyone, because as soon as someone interferes with what was going to happen absent any interference, then basically they own whatever happens next.
    IMO, if they have not experimented with this on storms that are no danger to land, it is a huge failure of leadership.
    If a dangerous storm could be disrupted just prior to landfall, the potential benefit is gigantic.

  17. ren says:

    Tropical storm is effectively suppressed by a jet stream over the US east coast.
    https://www.tropicaltidbits.com/sat/satlooper.php?region=us&product=wv-mid

  18. ren says:

    The animation below shows how the jet stream over North America will contribute to weakening the Dorian storm.
    http://tropic.ssec.wisc.edu/real-time/mtpw2/webAnims/tpw_nrl_colors/natl/mimictpw_natl_latest.gif

  19. Hans Erren says:

    Has the effect of oil(spills) on the hurrucane track been studied? II can imagine that evaporation is lessened.

  20. MikeN says:

    Would building artificial islands like the Chinese weaken hurricanes?

  21. Midas says:

    Thanks for illustrating how Trump should not be relying on his own micro-brain to make decisions about our weather and climate.

  22. BRI says:

    The bomb could be set off in the ocean under the hurricane.The vast majority of the water pushed up would be cold and absorb an enormous amount of heat from the storm. Probably still wouldn’t do much. https://youtu.be/8pkivjHnD_s

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