Monday, September 26, 2005

Can we stop a hurricane?

Government scientists have been trying to figure out how to stop or at least weaken hurricanes for decades.

Back in the '60s, they thought they had a solution:

The government did try one idea. They called it Project Stormfury. The plan: Drop silver iodide from airplanes into the outer rainbands of a storm.

The goal was to create a new ring of convection to compete with a hurricane's eye and rob the storm of its power. For a decade starting in 1961, scientists seeded clouds in four hurricanes. The storms weakened, so they thought it was working.

Then Hugh Willoughby came along. The former director of the government's Hurricane Research Division concluded that a natural process called "eyewall replacement" often makes storms wobble in intensity. That same phenomenon weakened Hurricane Rita somewhat as it plowed toward Texas.

"If I were really astute," says Willoughby, now a professor at Florida International University, "I'd go out tonight and seed the clouds, and when the winds drop I'd claim, 'I saved Houston! For $50 million, I'll do it again.' "

Other proposals over the years included:

  • Dropping sponges from airplanes
  • Blasting storms with a fleet of jet engines
  • Dragging icebergs from the North Pole to cool down the tropics.
  • And the all-purpose "nuke it!"
Read more in The Knight Ridder story: Weaken the fury.

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