Skip to main content
Can we stop hurricanes?

Can we stop hurricanes?

The 2017 hurricane season has been one of the most violent on record, with the highest number of major hurricanes since 2005 and it’s not even over yet. The storms have marched across the Atlantic in seemingly endless succession, and the alphabetic-order names have kept coming: Gert, Harvey, Irma, José, Katia, Lee, Maria, Nate, Ophelia … let’s hope at the time of writing that there isn’t a Philippe.

The heat energy of a fully-formed hurricane is equivalent to a 10-megaton nuclear bomb exploding every 20 minutes, according to the U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. Caribbean island nations are painfully aware of this, as 2017 storms have brought more destruction and chaos.

Some suspect that hurricanes are becoming more frequent and more powerful because of climate change. Or are years like 2005 and 2017 just flukes? There are many other pressing questions about Atlantic tropical cyclones, to give hurricanes their full name: What drives them? How accurately can we predict them? How can authorities prepare for them and respond when they strike? Is it possible to prevent them?

The last question is not as silly as it sounds. Apart from halting climate change, some novel methods have been proposed, including:

Injecting smoke into the bottom of a hurricane to seed ice crystals that reduce wind speed

Pumping vast quantities of cold water into the eye of a hurricane to make it fizzle out (this one was put forward by Bill Gates)

Dragging large icebergs from the poles to the tropics

The nuclear option: Yes, it has been suggested that we could nuke hurricanes to disrupt their convection currents.

Back to reality now, and sensible, pragmatic approaches to the problem of hurricanes. Anyone who requires an education on the subject could do a lot worse than to take the University of Michigan’s short course Hurricanes: What’s Next?, which explores the science of hurricanes, their forecasting and monitoring, and whether they are driven by climate change.

This course is one of the University of Michigan’s ‘Teach Out’ series, which are MOOCs exploring issues that affect us all. Other courses in the series cover pressing issues like identity and privacy in a digital age, sleep deprivation and how it affects us, fake news and alternative facts, and how countries shift from democratic to authoritarian rule.