Storm-ending bombs?

Heymatt: If we can develop bombs that level whole cities, why can’t scientists come up with the same stuff to obliterate tornadoes before landfall? What is it in these tornadoes that can’t be neutralized? Tornadoes are visible and can be tracked; hence, they can be attacked.

— Bien Cielo Zara, Mira Mesa

Every year or two, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fields inquiries about “nuking hurricanes” as storm season approaches. The logic is, in part, sound. Vicious storms such as tornadoes and hurricanes are caused by radical pressure and temperature differentials in the air. Dropping a massive bomb into the eye of the storm could, in theory, disrupt the flow of energy enough to dissipate the storm. There are many problems with this. Firstly, nuclear fallout would spread gleefully around the world on the remaining air currents, causing untold havoc for years to come. With hurricanes, there’s also a question of scale. The average hurricane expends more energy in one second than a 21 kiloton nuclear weapon (like the Fat Man bomb from WWII). A weapon large enough to disrupt a hurricane would be a “civilization ender” in and of itself, and you can see why tossing one of those around is a bad idea.

Tornadoes, while similar, are much smaller and might be disrupted by the heat and pressure effects of the shockwave from a tactical nuclear weapon. But tornadoes spring up quickly and unpredictably, doing their damage and running out of juice before they could be nuked. Also, they form inland and only do real damage when they strike urban areas. Dropping nukes on your own cities to thwart severe thunderstorms is, if not outright insane, at least counterproductive.

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