Imagine a monster Category 5 hurricane -- we'll call it "Hurricane Calamity" -- on a steady westward, high-confidence track, within two days of a South Florida landfall. Calamity's size, intensity and motion are almost identical to computer simulations performed several years ago to study the worst-case scenario impacts of a direct hit on Miami.
(The closest real life has come to this scenario in the 20th century was Hurricane Andrew, which in 1992 came ashore as a Category 5 storm about 30-35 miles south of Miami. Andrew devastated Homestead, Fla., before crossing the Florida peninsula, emerging into the northern Gulf of Mexico, and eventually making a second U.S. landfall near Morgan City, La.)
Considering the prospects for major damage and potential loss of life, the governor of Florida has already issued mandatory evacuation orders and declared a state of emergency. The level of fear and concern is extremely high as individuals and businesses do what they can to protect their property before it's too late to evacuate.
In reality it already is too late -- gridlock has turned evacuation routes into huge parking lots, with an untold number of overheated and out-of-gas vehicles. Tempers boil over as drivers realize they are trapped and likely exposed to the coming tidal surge, torrential rains and merciless winds.
Perhaps not surprisingly, some diehards have actually chosen to remain behind and face down Calamity with multiple six-packs (safely stored for just this purpose) at a number of hurricane parties -- hence becoming prime candidates for a Darwin Award. And, of course, there are the usual reporters daring to be blown over on live TV, and destined to be the subject of thousands of hits on Stupid Videos and You Tube (and added to my list of TV Weather Bloopers).
Now what? Will the worst-case scenario come true? Will the loss of life, personal suffering, and billions of dollars in damage exceed Katrina's toll in New Orleans? Is Hurricane Calamity an irresistible, unstoppable force of nature?
Maybe NOT! But how, I hear you cry. I'll get there, but first...
One of my favorite genres of Sci-Fi movies when I was a young kid (i.e., ancient history) were the monster and space alien flicks in the 1950s where the fate of this or that place on Earth, and its entire populace, appeared doomed with no hope of being saved. Among the best, in my opinion even to this day, was "THEM", a film about ants mutated to the size of automobiles by the radiation from atomic bomb tests.
Invariably in these movies, citizens, military officials and mainstream scientists are helpless in stopping the impending disaster. Until that is... No, it's not superman to the rescue. Rather it's usually either an elderly, previously discredited scientist (with young granddaughter tagging along) or the rebellious newcomer (with attractive girlfriend) who, although dismissed outright at first by authorities, comes up in the nick of time with just the right solution to save the day. A similar theme runs through more recent movies (with more advanced special effects) such as "VOLCANO" and "APOCALYPSE."
So now back to Hurricane Calamity as it continues to bear down on Miami with what's sure to be catastrophic consequences. But wait, a newly minted Ph.D. meteorologist appears on the scene with the one and only opportunity to avoid disaster. His reputation is that of a "Young Turk" and he is ignored at first as simply seeking the limelight to impress his TV weathercaster girlfriend. But, it turns out he has high-level connections that ultimately prove vital in convincing authorities to try it his way.
So, the plan is put rapidly into effect ....
THE END??... Not so fast!
In the real world, there have been attempts in the past to modify hurricane intensity and track, and scientifically reasonable (and potentially feasible) approaches to modifying hurricanes are currently on the table. What are they? Can we be sure of the outcomes? Does the cost outweigh the benefits and possible risks? What are the potential legal and political ramifications? These and related issues will be the subject of my post next week.
Posted by: BobT | October 17, 2008 3:03 PM | Report abuse
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