No, it is not currently possible to stop or disrupt a hurricane.
We’ve made some astonishing breakthroughs as a species in areas such as medicine, space travel and computing power, but where are we at on weather control?
It’s not uncommon for serious people to float ideas for some man-made, technological solution for disrupting hurricanes, especially in the wake of extremely bad storms like Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma.
Most weather experts will tell you there aren’t really any academic researchers actively working on hurricane disruption or prevention tools. That doesn’t mean no one is trying or has tried their hand at developing a way to stop hurricanes.
Irvng Langmuir, a scientist and Nobel laureate, teamed up with Kurt Vonnegut’s brother, physicist Bernard Vennegut, to tackle hurricanes in the mid-1940s.
Langmuir already had a history of interfering with and influencing the weather. He was the first person to create artificial snowfall by flying a bag of dry ice into a cloud in 1946. Langmuir “seeded” the cloud over Mt. Greylock (western Massachusetts, just east of Albany, NY) with pellets of frozen carbon dioxide (dry ice). This caused snow to fall approximately 3,000 feet before evaporating.
Scientists at the time were actively seeking ways to affect the weather out of wartime necessity. Militaries were extremely interested in a way to generate artificial fog to conceal ships. This led to Langmuir’s research on cloud formation.
It turned out there was a pretty lucrative market that was very interested in the idea of artificial snow – ski resorts.
Bernard Vonnegut, brother of author Kurt Vonnegut and a physicist at GE, partnered with Langmuir and atmospheric scientist Vincent Schaefer on Project Cirrus. The initial goal of Project Cirrus was to prevent ice layers forming on wings of aircraft, a phenomenon that led to a lot of crashes during World War II.
At first glance a lot of their research appeared to consist of scientists flying to high elevations and dropping things out of the airplane door, but their efforts did accomplish some impressive feats.
By 1947 they were creating heavy rainfall by seeding trade winds with a metric ton of salt particles (approximately 25 microns in diameter).
Their first attempt at interfering with a hurricane came that same year with the 1947 Cable Sable Hurricane. The hurricane’s eye had a diameter of roughly 30 miles with 30- to 50-mile-thick cloud walls from about 800 feet to 20,000 feet.
The team had three bombers at this point, a B-17 to seed the storm with dry ice, a second B-17 to record the results and a B-29 control aircraft from which Schaefer could spot appropriate clouds and direct seeding. The first B-17 circled in the wall at about 19,200 feet while seeding dry ice for 110 miles.
The appearance of the clouds reportedly changed slightly, but there were no conclusive effects of the seeding. The hurricane that had been headed east deeper into the Atlantic went on to reverse course, making landfall in Savannah, GA.
Some people at the time blamed the seeding for the course reversal (which is highly unlikely given what we know now), but that didn’t stop the controversy from damaging Project Cirrus and weather modification efforts. The program ran out of funding in 1952, but the progress they made, and the interest it generated in the ensuing decades made weather experts optimistic about the future of weather control.
A poll of meteorologists published in Science Newsletter in the late 1950s suggested half of meteorologists thought it would be possible to prevent hail and lightning within the next 10 years and steer tornadoes and hurricanes in 50 years. None of those hopes ever came to fruition. Our ability to control hail, lightning, tornadoes and hurricanes is still non-existent 60 years later.
The U.S. started up Project Stormfury in 1962 to test ways to potentially steer or disperse hurricane energy by seeding them with silver iodide in processes derived in large part from the research conduct by Vonnegut, Schaefer and Langmuir 15 years earlier.
The Project Stormfury team were allegedly able to affect hurricanes, but could only run tests if the storm had specific characteristics:
They were only able to find a handful of storms that met those criteria, but they did manage to do some tests.
The Project Stormfury team seeded Hurricane Beulah with silver iodide in 1963, after which the storm’s wind speeds went down by 20 percent. However, one test isn’t conclusive proof.
They didn’t get another adequate hurricane for six more years. The project eventually abandoned hurricane modification and instead focused on studying and better understanding hurricanes.
Project Stormfury didn’t accomplish their hurricane steering goal and the project was officially abandoned in 1983. As of yet there are no reliable, scientifically proven and tested methods to stop or otherwise modify a hurricane, but our understanding of these storms increases every year. Who knows what the future may hold?