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Is it possible to freeze, nuke a hurricane?

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Posted at 6:35 PM, Sep 02, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-02 23:00:41-04

The president reportedly suggested dropping nuclear weapons into hurricanes. There is a viral video from a Florida man suggesting scientists should freeze hurricanes.

Could either idea work, and not cause more harm to the environment?

No!

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has addressed dropping nuclear weapons into major hurricanes. While it is true that nuclear weapons are damaging and release a lot of energy, hurricanes are even more energetic.

The amount of energy it would take to potentially disrupt a hurricane would cause massive fallout as trade winds would carry nuclear material, devastating the environment.

What about freezing a hurricane? Any attempts to freeze a hurricane would have to come from the ground, as simply cooling the air from an airplane could actually cause storms to strengthen.

It is true that warmer ocean water causes more powerful storms, so when storms encounter cooler water, storms weaken. But cooling the ocean water enough to affect major hurricanes would not be practical.

Given that hurricanes have eyes generally 20 miles, if not longer, in width, it would be near impossible to cool that much water, and keep it cool for very long.

"Consider the scale of what we are talking about," NOAA said. "The critical region in the hurricane for energy transfer would be under or near the eyewall region. If the eyewall was thirty miles (48 kilometer) in diameter, that means an area of nearly 2000 square miles (4550 square kilometers). Now if the hurricane is moving at 10 miles an hour (16 km/hr) it will sweep over 7200 square miles (18,650 square kilometers) of ocean. That's a lot of icebergs for just 24 hours of the cyclone's life."

The following video shows how even using liquid nitrogen -- a material that is minus 320 -- would not be practical to cool a hurricane.

NOAA says that it has attempted to alter hurricanes in the past with little success. While hurricanes generally did weaken by dropping silver iodine into the storm, further research suggested that the weakening was a result of a natural eyewall replacement cycle.

While science has significantly advanced in forecasting hurricanes, science has not figured out a way to weaken a hurricane without causing more harm. So for now, heed the advice of emergency managers.

"Perhaps some day, somebody will come up with a way to weaken hurricanes artificially," NOAA wrote. "It is a beguiling notion. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could do it"