Project Stormfury 1963

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Hurricane Hugo nears Charleston, SC, September 1989. (Photo NASA)

On 23 August 1963, a joint Navy-Weather Bureau (today’s NOAA) project called Stormfury was put into action when an A-3B Skywarrior seeded Hurricane Beulah with silver iodide crystals in an attempt to weaken the structure of the hurricane.

VQ-1 Whale in 1974 (Photo US Navy)

Hurricane Beulah was far enough away from populated areas to be a candidate and close enough for aircraft to reach her for seeding operations.

(Image Weather Underground website)

Hurricane hunter's view inside the eyewall of Katrina (Photo NASA)

The meteorologist behind the seeding of hurricanes was a woman, Dr.  Joanne Simpson, the first female to receive a Ph.D. in meteorology, University of Chicago (1949).

Joanne Simpson became a full professor at UCLA in 1961. While there she developed the first computer cloud model. (Photograph courtesy Joanne Simpson and the Schlesinger Library)

The idea behind Stormfury’s science was to enhance the thunderstorms in the hurricane eyewall by freezing the supercooled water (water that is still in the form of water though it is below 32 F) in the clouds and liberate some of its latent heat of fusion. This would, in theory, cause the eyewall to break down, and a new one form farther out, expanding the circumference of the eye. The strongest winds of a hurricane are found near the center-the more “tightly wound” the hurricane is, the stronger it is-so moving the eyewall outward should result in a weaker hurricane. See the image below…Unfortunately the scientists didn’t find out until later that hurricanes have little supercooled water in their clouds and that the eyewall of a hurricane naturally undergoes an eye wall replacement cycle.

Stormfury was abandoned by the government after millions of dollars were spent in trying to do the impossible, but Cuban President Fidel Castro was convinced that the Yankees were seeking to weaponize hurricanes!

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