Peter Patau

In case you really needed to be told: No, you can’t just blow up storms with nuclear bombs.

Apparently, some people do need to be told this. They ask the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration about it every year, according to this entry in NOAA’s list of frequently asked questions:

During each hurricane season, there always appear suggestions that one should simply use nuclear weapons to try and destroy the storms. 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.

Oh, it’s needless to say, is it? EVIDENTLY NOT.

But, OK, just for curiosity’s sake, if you can deflect an asteroid using paintballs, why can’t you just nuke the shit out of a storm? For starters, it’s because hurricanes release so much heat energy. Wind movement represents only a fraction of a hurricane’s power — a mature hurricane can release up to 200 trillion watts of heat energy, and only 10 percent of that gets converted into the mechanical energy of the wind. With that kind of energy potential, a hurricane laughs at nuclear bombs — it’s releasing a 10-megaton bomb’s worth of heat energy every 20 minutes.

Even if you had some kind of miraculous superbomb, though, it wouldn’t do the trick — because the trick is raising atmospheric pressure a huge amount within a small area, i.e. the eye of the storm. To knock a Category 5 hurricane down to a Category 2, you’d have to find a way to pack about 550 million extra tons of air into a 12-mile diameter eye. But that’s not how bombs work. They don’t increase atmospheric pressure; instead, they create a pressure wave that moves quickly away from the source of the explosion.

I guess the real issue is, why aren’t we using these hurricanes — which will surely get increasingly common — as a source of household power? After all, in 1990 the entire human race used only 1 trillion watts, which is a tiny portion of what a storm can produce. This is obviously a stupid question, so it’s no surprise that NOAA answered this one too. (The short version: Because that’s really, really hard.)

Anyway, don’t nuke storms, guys. It’s pointless, it’s counterproductive, and if you have access to nukes you are probably either a government or an evil genius, which means your time would be better spent trying to figure out a way to harness the power of the hurricane and bend it to your will.