What happens if you nuke a hurricane? People are honestly curious, apparently
Now, it appears that officials have to explain why it’s a bad idea to try to take out the weather system with a nuclear weapon.
WATCH: Global News’ coverage of Hurricane Irma
The question of using a nuclear weapon to take out a hurricane was posed on social media as Irma charted a destructive course for the Sunshine State.
Some seemed serious about it:
Others speculated on what might happen:
Still, others seemed to ask the question in jest:
And some users had a simple answer:
“Why don’t we destroy tropical cyclones by nuking them?” reads an article by Chris Landsea, a science and operations officer with the National Hurricane Center (NHC).
“Apart from the fact that this might not even alter the storm, this approach neglects the problem that the released radioactive fallout would fairly quickly move with the tradewinds to affect land areas and cause devastating environmental problems.
“Needless to say, this is not a good idea.”
A nuclear weapon wouldn’t have any appreciable impact on a hurricane because of the energy that would be needed to affect it, Landsea wrote.
Hurricanes can release energy at a rate of 5 to 20×1013 watts; that release is equivalent to a 10-megaton nuclear bomb that explodes every 20 minutes, he added.
Even if a nuclear bomb were to explode, it would produce a shock wave that would “propagat[e] away from the site of the explosion somewhat faster than the speed of sound.”
If you wanted to change a Category 5 hurricane to a Category 2 storm, you would need to add a “half a ton” of air for each square metre inside the eye, or a total of a bit more than half a billion tons for a 20-kilometre radius eye.”
(The eye of Irma’s radius was almost 25 kilometres last week, according to USA Today.)
“It’s difficult to envision a practical way of moving that much air around,” Landsea wrote.
But even if nuking a hurricane can’t be supported from a scientific standpoint, that hasn’t stopped officials from proposing it — or at least speculating on its possibilities.
In 1961, Francis W. Riechelderfer, who was then in charge of the U.S. Weather Bureau, said in a National Press Club speech that he could one day, perhaps, imagine “exploding a nuclear bomb on a hurricane far at sea,” National Geographic reported.
Meanwhile, meteorologist Jack Reed of Sandia Laboratory delivered a presentation in 1959 in which he floated the idea of having a submarine enter a hurricane’s eye, fire nuclear missiles and push the storm’s air into higher reaches of Earth’s atmosphere.
He posited that a 20-megaton explosion could slow a hurricane’s wind speeds by half.
To prove this, however, would have required detonating a number of weapons, and government staff were concerned that such an exercise would go against its own efforts to stop atmospheric tests.
Irma and Jose
In any case, Irma has weakened to a tropical depression.
The National Hurricane Center issued its last public advisory on the storm on Monday night amid reports that water levels are subsiding, though strong winds could still affect the South Carolina coast.
Hurricane Jose, however, remains a Category 1 storm, with maximum winds blowing at up to 136 km/h.
Its winds are expected to hit the Bahamas on Thursday.
© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.