NOAA to American public: No, we are not going to just nuke the storms

A Q&A piece on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration begins with this incredibly disconcerting sentence: "During each hurricane season, there always appear suggestions that one should simply use nuclear weapons to try and destroy the storms."

Really? Seriously, America?

Anyway, the entire piece ends up being pretty fascinating, as research meteorologist Chris Landsea explains why nuking a hurricane would be a bad idea ... besides, you know, the obvious reasons.

... an explosive, even a nuclear explosive, produces a shock wave, or pulse of high pressure, that propagates away from the site of the explosion somewhat faster than the speed of sound. Such an event doesn't raise the barometric pressure after the shock has passed because barometric pressure in the atmosphere reflects the weight of the air above the ground. For normal atmospheric pressure, there are about ten metric tons (1000 kilograms per ton) of air bearing down on each square meter of surface. In the strongest hurricanes there are nine. To change a Category 5 hurricane into a Category 2 hurricane you would have to add about a half ton of air for each square meter inside the eye, or a total of a bit more than half a billion (500,000,000) tons for a 20 km radius eye. It's difficult to envision a practical way of moving that much air around.

Attacking weak tropical waves or depressions before they have a chance to grow into hurricanes isn't promising either. About 80 of these disturbances form every year in the Atlantic basin, but only about 5 become hurricanes in a typical year. There is no way to tell in advance which ones will develop. If the energy released in a tropical disturbance were only 10% of that released in a hurricane, it's still a lot of power, so that the hurricane police would need to dim the whole world's lights many times a year.

Read the rest of the piece at the NOAA website

Via Mark Strauss

Image: NASA/GSFC/Jeff Schmaltz/MODIS Land Rapid Response Team


  1. I’d be more curious to hear wacky futuristic ways of harnessing the storms, rather than blowing them up.

    How about taking out a bunch of aircraft carriers, hooking them up to some sort floating turbine system and charging massive batteries by removing the kinetic energy out of the storm?

    1. Or we could abandon our belief that we have a god given right to build 5 inches from the water everywhere.

      1. Yes exactly! We should abandon all the cities we’ve built near the ocean. Who cares that they’ve existed hundreds of years?

        Oh and people that live on islands, don’t get me started on people that live on islands!

          1. I’m not even sure what this is trying to say. We’re screwing up the planet by building near the ocean and that’s bad? We’re harming other species by building near the ocean? We shouldn’t consider humans more than any other species? What is the point?

          2. Commerce is the point. The cheapest and most efficient way to get things form A to B is by water.Also people who live by the sea learn that eating sea-life is awesome.

          3.  The only species in the world that cares if we live or die is us. The world could give a toss what has existed for hundreds of solar cycles.

      2. I’ll just repeat this comment from the other thread: People settle on the coasts because the sea is an important commerce route, fishing is a major industry, the climate is on the whole actually milder than inland, etc.

        1. Exactly, humans not only have settled along the coasts for a long time because it was necessary then, but it is also necessary now.

          We can settle further inland and perhaps we’ll avoid some of the worst affects from tropical storms. But what about other disasters Should we also avoid mountains for fear of avalanches and landslides? All forests for fear of fires? Areas prone to tornadoes? Drought? River flooding?

          Where is left that is safe to settle following this logic?

          1. Nowhere, and most of that nowhere doesn’t have enough water to support a large population.

          2. There are some areas that are extremely vulnerable on a relatively frequent basis.  It is a gray area where you have to evaluate risk.  No, you can’t stop building in all of CA because of earthquakes but maybe you shouldn’t build right on top of a major active known fault line?  Or don’t build at the top of an unstable hill?  That still leaves plenty of other choices.

          3. Except Mark, that doesn’t leave as much room as you claim. 

            Japan for example, is pretty much all major faultline. Obviously this has consequences sometimes, but so does trying to relocate 127million people. 

            Like wise for islanders, and in general developing nations.

            In 2009, huge portions of my state went up in flames, including my home town. Hundreds of people died, thousands lost their homes. Some towns were very nearly wiped out completely. A lot of people chose to leave these towns afterwards. A lot did not, for those people, the history, their livelihoods, their affiliation with the land, etc; these things were worth the risk of another fire. Besides, the next fire could take out a completely different town, or even hit the city. Meanwhile, cities like NYC have hundreds of years worth of built infrastructure, culture and history.

        2. Everyone immediately jumps to the extreme “Well we can’t build near the water!?”.  No, how about building maybe a half mile or mile inland in vulnerable areas and only have port structures closer to the water?  Don’t build on sandbars, etc.  I never said don’t build near the ocean.

    2. I have this image in my head of dozens of aircraft carriers, chained together like a giant pinwheel, being spun around the storm center like the ty-dee-bol man’s yacht going down the toilet.

      This idea needs serious consideration, but frankly I am sold already.

    1. It’s not that hurricanes are too large to be nuked, it’s that our nukes are not yet large enough for use against hurricanes!

    2. All the best solutions start with someone just waving their hands and saying “Details shmetails”

  2. Well the scientists at Los Alamos were playing with ideas like this in the late 1940’s. They didn’t manage to get anywhere with weather modification, but they did manage to get the US army to part with a huge chunk of money to develop the first numerical weather forecasting models. So I guess useful stuff can come out of playing with stupid ideas. For a history read, James Fleming’s book “Fixing the Sky”:
    It’s a brilliant read, and very relevant to challenges such as climate modification and geoengineering.

    1. Now I’m imagining the scientists pitching the idea for building a weather forecasting service to the army and getting a “boooor-ing!” from the General.  Then they go talk about blowing up storms with nukes and suddenly the army can’t toss enough money at those scientists.

    1.  Thanks a lot. There’s probably an exec from the Sci-Fi Channel sending memos out right now. “Get me a movie about atomic superstorms! You can have a budget of $14 — or $20 if you add a shark to it!”

    1. So I think what you’re saying is that we should douse hurricanes with liquid nitrogen. Using blimps, somehow.

      That might be more fun to watch than an explosion, if you can get enough LN2. 

      1. Don’t you remember? In the 1970s all the grant-sucking double-domes were refusing to use LN2 on hurricanes because of the impending Ice Age! I heard it on Fox.

      1. Uh, wait….maybe that should be, “The Atomocanes and the Sharknadoes, featuring the Nuclear Octocanes!” Kinda long tho…..But the art work would be super cool.

    1. The preferred term is “atomocane”, as in “Pack your glow speedos folks, the outlook downthe shore this weekend is good for a balmy visit from Atomocane Candice!”

  3. Joe Sixpack on Monday: “Ain’t no such thing as climate change. Rush says it’s arrogant to think humans can mess with the earth.”

    Joe Sixpack  on Tuesday: “The government could have stopped the hurricane with a nuclear bomb but they wanted Fartbongo to look like he done did something presidential.”

  4. Then again there’s the question of what the modification of a major weather system would do to climate.  

    If you even could eliminate a hurricane, you’re going to have a repercussion somewhere along the line.  Call it the Mothera butterfly wing effect perhaps.

    1. Actually, the most effective use of nukes to lessen the impact of natural disasters on humanity would be to just kill off the human race with them.

  5. Hurricanes in the Atlantic begin as hot winds over the Sahara. Just use nuclear (or solar) power to desalinate seawater and irrigate all of North Africa. Of course, if you do that, the lack of Saharan mineral dust will probably kill major ecosystems throughout the Americas, but whatevs – no more flooding here! Amirite?

    1. NUKE sahara to turn it to glass and then worry no more about hot winds. It will also reflect more energy back to space and help reduce the overall heat there !

  6. During the oil spill in the Gulf, Chris Matthews of MSNBC fame would NOT stop pushing his idea of sinking an old submarine or large ship onto the well head.  I felt sad for the interviewees who had to respond.

  7. I think there is an author, Jack London or Jules Verne, I think, who describe a pacific cyclone that they avoided by firing the cannon of the ship while caught in it.
    Is that story based on facts or just fiction?

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