After dozens of nonsensical proposals to kill hurricanes with everything from nuclear bombs to cat litter, finally an idea that might work: enormous wind turbines placed offshore from storm vulnerable cities.
The proposal — published in the scientific journal Nature Climate Change — involves placing tens of thousands of turbines around the nation's Gulf and Atlantic coastlines.
Mark Jacobson, a Stanford University professor of environmental engineering, says they could cut a hurricane's destructive winds and storm surge by up to 80 percent. He estimates that Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach would need about 40,000 turbines apiece to be spared a hurricane.
One of the nation's top atmospheric scientists thinks it's a "great idea," even if it would be a logistical nightmare. "It would definitely reduce the kinetic energy of a hurricane's wind field, and that would lessen the impact of the system," said Mark Powell, of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Hurricane Research Division.
Using a special computer model, Jacobson found that 78,000 wind turbines — each about 50 stories tall — around New Orleans would have reduced Category 3 Hurricane Katrina's winds from 125 mph to about 48 mph — a mediocre tropical storm. The turbines also would have reduced the catastrophic storm surge by 79 percent.
The turbines cost about $10 million apiece, but Jacobson notes "they would pay for themselves" because their primary purpose would be to generate electricity and reduce dependence on fossil fuels.
Each year, weather watchers and experts alike dream up numerous proposals to kill hurricanes. Among them: dump gobs of absorbent material into the storm's eye to deprive of it moisture or pour loads of dry ice into its path to deprive it of heat.
"Nuking a storm is the most common one I get," said Dennis Feltgen, spokesman for the National Hurricane Center. "Logistically, it wouldn't work."