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Nuke the Hurricanes! August 27, 2019

Posted by Peter Varhol in Technology and Culture.
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The topic of dropping a nuclear bomb into a hurricane is currently making the rounds in general purpose journalism and politics.  The theory intrigues many people, in large part because it assumes that humans can exercise a large amount of control over their environment.

Now, I am not a meteorologist, but I think I understand a little bit of the physics involved.  First, a hurricane is likely far too large to be torn apart by a nuclear weapon of modest megaton explosive capability.  There may be some disruption of wind forces, but not at all stop a hurricane in its tracks.  Those who have been in hurricanes (I have been in two Category 1 systems) realize the incredible power of such systems, and how we are just bit players in a cataclysmic event.

Second, the more profound result is the spread of nuclear fallout across wide regions of the world.  The enormous winds of a hurricane will only serve to spread radiation across oceans and continents, endangering people and environment.

Instead, a more intriguing alternative was proposed by fiction writer (and university marine engineering professor) Hilbert Schenck in his 1983 novella Hurricane Claude.  Schenck postulates a hurricane similar to the unnamed 1938 Northeast hurricane (often called the Great New England Hurricane, or the Long Island Express) that wreaked havoc on Long Island, and devises an extremely powerful electrical current from a plane at 30,000 feet to a boat of the surface in the middle of a hurricane.

The problem is with the boat, of course.  Despite being waterproof and presumably unsinkable (of course, it hadn’t been tested in a major hurricane), the pounding taken had the potential to kill anyone on board, even if they are protected from drowning.

But there are still larger problems with Schenck’s concept.  Now, it is not at all clear that an electrical charge, no matter what its intensity, would affect a hurricane.  He presents a compelling case, but I have no idea if it is backed by science (Schenck died in 2013).  And it’s not clear that an airplane and boat can generate the electrical current required.

And even if it did work, would there be a larger environmental fallout?  It’s impossible to tell without trying it, yet the worst case is likely worse than we can imagine.

While Schenck presents an interesting possibility, I’m not sure this can ever reasonably be tested.  But it makes for a better read than a nuclear bomb.

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