As Hurricane Michael impacts the United States today, I wondered about past hurricanes and some facts about one of nature’s most destructive events. Here are some things I found:
- Strongest Hurricane: Wilma (2005).
- Hurricane with Highest Sustained Winds: Allen (1980) at 190 mph
- Year with Most Hurricanes: 2005 with 15
- Costliest Hurricane: Katrina (2005) and Harvey (2017) with $125 billion in damages
- Deadliest Hurricane: “Great Hurricane” (1780) with over 22,000 deaths.
- Largest Hurricane: Olga (2001) at 995 miles in diameter.
- Longest Distance Traveled: Faith (1966) traveled 6,850 miles
- Longest Duration of a Hurricane: “San Ciriaco” lasted 27 days, 18 hours.
- Most Frequently Hit By Hurricanes: Monroe County, Florida (15)
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), there is an average of 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes each year.
So what exactly causes hurricanes?
A hurricane is a type of cyclone, which is a generic term for any powerful, rotating storm that originates in warm tropical oceans and creates strong winds and heavy rain. Cyclones occur around the world, but are called hurricanes if they occur in the Atlantic and Northern Pacific—so off the coasts of the U.S., Mexico, and in the Caribbean. Elsewhere, they’re called typhoons or tropical cyclones. A weather system technically becomes a hurricane once it reaches wind speeds of 74 mph (before that, it’s called a tropical storm). From there, hurricanes are broken down into five different categories using the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. Hurricanes are made up of the eye (a 20- to 30-mile wide center), the eyewall, and the outer rain bands. The eye is notoriously calm and clear, lacking in winds or precipitation—but you wouldn’t want to be caught inside one. Surrounding the eye is the eyewall, a dense, dangerous zone where winds reach their highest speeds. Outside the eyewall, rain bands contain heavy showers that extend hundreds of miles off the center. A typical hurricane spans 300 miles wide, but can grow much bigger (Irma was 425 miles in diameter).
So with all the technology we have, why can’t we stop a hurricane?
Believe it or not, it has been tried – or at least thought about. There have been few methods considered:
- Fly Supersonic Jets Into it. Basically jets would fly in circles around the eye of the hurricane to create a sonic boom that would disrupt the upward flow of warm air that fuels hurricanes. The NOAA thinks this is a bad idea and would jeopardize the lives of the pilots. The effects of a sonic boom would have little effect on the storm.
- Use a Giant Funnel to Divert Warm Water into the Ocean. Intellectual Ventures proposed placing a plastic funnel in the water with a cylinder that uses wave motion to divert the warm water that creates hurricanes into the ocean floor. This idea has never developed as there would be significant regulatory red tape to overcome in order to simply test this theory.
- Project STORMFURY. This was a government project to seed hurricanes with silver iodide, in the hopes of strengthening the clouds around the hurricane and creating an “outer eyewall.” According to Willoughby— who helped put the project to bed once and for all — researchers seeded clouds in hurricanes Esther (1961), Beulah (1963), Debbie (1969), and Ginger (1971) with silver iodide. And at first, the results appeared promising — the hurricanes seemed to slow down somewhat. But further observation revealed that the hurricane changes were consistent with what you’d expect a hurricane to do, and it turned out that hurricanes develop an “outer eyewall” on their own, without any human intervention. And observations in the 1980s proved that there just wasn’t enough supercooled water inside hurricanes for the silver iodide to have much effect.
- Blow Up A Hurricane. Dropping any kind of bomb – nuclear or otherwise – designed to disrupt a hurricane might work but could cause other collateral effects as you would imagine.
- United We Fan. A group tried to “blow away” Hurricane Irma in 2017 by asking Florida residents to point their fans towards the hurricane to prevent it from making landfall. It is estimated that 60,000 people volunteered try this method. It didn’t work. Irma still made landfall in South Florida.
2018 Atlantic Hurricane Season:
- Subtropical Storm Alberto (May)
- Hurricane Beryl (July)
- Hurricane Chris (July)
- Tropical Storm Debby (August)
- Tropical Storm Ernesto (August)
- Hurricane Florence (August)
- Tropical Storm Gordon (August)
- Hurricane Helen (September)
- Hurricane Isaac (September)
- Tropical Storm Joyce (September)
- Tropical Depression Eleven (September)
- Tropical Storm Kirk (September)
- Hurricane Leslie (September)
- Hurricane Michael (October)