May 26, 2019

Can Science Conquer Hurricanes Before They Strike?

Weather modification has a long, sordid history and hurricanes have inspired some of the more far-fetched proposals, from bombarding cyclones with sonic booms from aircraft to beaming down microwaves from space into nascent storms.

In one of the most infamous attempts to slay a hurricane, Nobel laureate Irving Langmuir led a US military experiment in 1947 to seed Hurricane King with ice in hopes of sapping its vigor. The storm at the time was sliding away from the United States and losing strength.

In an excerpt in the Atlantic from his book Caesar’s Last Breath, author Sam Kean explained Langmuir’s idea: Growing ice in the eye of the hurricane would make the eye grow wider and collapse the storm. But Hurricane King didn’t respond as expected. “To everyone’s horror, it then pivoted—taking an impossible 135-degree turn—and began racing into Savannah, Georgia, causing $3 million in damage ($32 million today) and killing one person,” Kean writes.

Other meteorologists at the time were skeptical that Langmuir’s experiment made the storm change course.

US scientists continued to study seeding clouds inside hurricanes as late as 1983 under Project STORMFURY. But they concluded, according to NOAA, that “cloud seeding had little prospect of success because hurricanes contained too much natural ice and too little supercooled water.”

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