Hurrican Ecology

Hurricanes can wreak horrific structural damage and lead to loss of life, but you knew that already.

What you might not be thinking about are the numerous benefits of hurricanes. No, they don’t revive your immune system or add years to your life (or your house). But they can clean out waterways, help re-build barrier islands, and crush invasive species.

Another interesting side-benefit, not as incidental as might initially seem, is that hurricanes redistribute heat, drawing it out of the tropics and moving it towards the poles. Without hurricanes, the tropics would be much warmer than they already are, and the poles would be much colder.

(In spite of these obvious benefits, you might find yourself asking, “Why don’t we try to destroy tropical cyclones by nuking them?” I know I’ve asked myself that question more than once. Well, as it turns out, the problem isn’t just where the nuclear fallout would end up [though that would definitely be a major obstacle]: it’s really an issue of energy, which goes back to the whole heat redistribution issue. According to the Hurricane Research Division [appropriately enough] of the Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory, yer average well-developed hurricane releases the heat equivalent of a 10-megaton bomb every 20 minutes, releasing energy at a rate close to 5 times that at which human civilization devours it. Which, however you slice, dice, or spin, is a heck of a lot of energy.)

(AP: “Hurricanes Bring Environmental Renewal,” by Rachel La Corte [September 6, 2004]; “Our Friend The Hurricane,” by Dr. Jack Hall; AOML HRD FAQ: “Why don’t we try to destroy tropical cyclones by nuking them?”)