Over the last three days, Hurricane Irma has slowly weakened, shifting from her original category 5 classification and calming. Today, she’s little more than a tropical storm, unlikely to create more havoc than causing you to require an umbrella on your way to work. The hurricane’s notoriety lies in its wake: widespread damage and complete devastation all the way from the southern Caribbean islands to South Carolina.
Now, Americans must begin the tiring but worthy task of recovering, rebuilding, and recreating communities. With as many as 25 percent of all homes in locations like the Florida Keys essentially flattened, it’s a big task. But Floridians and Caribbeans have one thing in common; they’re a tough lot with perseverance. If anyone is up to the task, it’s them.
But devastation isn’t all Irma left in her wake; a persistent rumor that weather modification was directly responsible for the storm in the first place has many Americans questioning government involvement. Was Hurricane Irma really caused by systems like HAARP? Did government cloud seeding have the unintended side effect of spurring on hurricanes?
First, understand that nearly every time we have a violent weather system conspiracy theorists bring up the idea of weather modification. It isn’t a new idea, nor is it particularly unique to Hurricane Irma.
But this time, something was a little bit different. A circulating video clip appeared to show Physicist Michio Kaku laying the blame for Irma and other recent hurricanes squarely at the feet of the now-defunct High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP) in Alaska and the scientists who run it. Sharers represented the video as being recent, and many people fell for it assuming it was true.
Although this rumor was surprisingly convincing, mostly because of the CBS News video that came with it, it grossly misrepresented the truth.
Here’s the truth: No, HAARP absolutely did not have anything to do with Hurricane Irma (or for that matter, Hurricane Jose). These hurricanes occurred because of especially warm tropical waters, most of which were likely spurred on by climate change as a whole. (Note that climate change isn’t necessarily the same thing as global warming). As the entire earth warms up by a degree or two, tropical waters warm; the warmer the water, the stronger the hurricane.
As for the video from CBS News that appears to show a physicist claiming HAARP is responsible for recent hurricanes, it’s legitimate — but it’s misrepresented, too. The video comes from an interview in 2013 in which Kaku discussed the possibility for scientists to eventually influence or even control weather, including rainfall amounts. Kaku does bring up government weather manipulation during the interview, but also goes as far as to say the evidence for such interference is “inconclusive.”
Hurricane Irma wasn’t caused by HAARP. This is just fact. But could scientists really control weather, either now or someday well into the future? Most reliable sources seem to say yes. We know that science can precipitate water vapor out of clouds. This amounts to cloud seeding, and currently used to fight forest fires and resolve droughts in some areas of the world. As we have the technology to create massive burst of electromagnetic activity, it stands to reason that science may eventually be able to create electrical storms, too.
NOAA, one of the world’s most reliable hurricane tracking organizations, does support the advancement of hurricane modification. A few of their suggestions include
- Using high-powered laser technology to discharge lightning, weakening storms
- Adding liquid nitrogen to seawater to cool temperatures down (controversial)
- Adding soot to the air to block out heat intensity or reduce temperatures
Unfortunately, science still has a long way to go before using these measures becomes reliable or even advisable. Adding nitrogen to seawater, for example, could have the unintended consequence of killing off thousands of sea creatures. Using lasers could backfire and introduce more electricity to the air than before.
Although we may one day have the ability to disable hurricanes, it wouldn’t necessarily be wise. Hurricanes play an integral role in the Earth’s temperature and climate, moving warm air around. If we halt that process, it could very well produce devastating results.