FOR THE WEEK OF SEP. 26, 2005
Can't our technology stop a hurricane?
Have your students search through newspaper ads for materials they could use to build their own Rube Goldberg contraption to fend off hurricanes. Assign or let them decide how much money they could "spend" to build their hurricane deflectors. Then have them describe how they would build the device and explain why it would work.
Ask students to check out newspaper stories about the 120-mile long traffic jam created when hundreds of thousands of people tried to evacuate Houston. Have them write a report based on those stories about what mistakes they think were made and ask them to offer suggestions about how such a mass evacuation could be better planned and executed.
Have students follow newspaper reports about the congressional committee inquiries into what went wrong in the federal response to Katrina. Ask them to write to their congressmen or congresswomen and their U.S. senators and request copies of the testimony gathered by the committees and evaluate how effective the inquiries were, as well as how effective local, state and federal governments performed in an emergency.
With the number of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes doubling over the past 35 years, it is not surprising that yet another major storm, this one named Rita, has struck the United States. Rita was the 17th named storm this hurricane season, the earliest ever that so many named storms have been recorded.
One scientist says that the frequency of hurricanes probably is cyclical, but raised the possibility that the severity of the storms may be caused by global warming. Global warming, caused by fossil fuel use, raises the temperature of the oceansi surface water and the temperature of the ocean surface enflames hurricanes, increasing their power.
The debate over global warming's role in the increasing number of major storms also raises the questions: Can we do anything about these monstrous storms and, if so, what?
Seed the clouds? One federal experiment back in the 1960s initially raised hopes that mankind could impose its will on hurricanes. In Project STORMFURY, as the experiment it was called, silver iodide was dropped into the rain bands of four hurricanes. The theory was that the iodide would cause the supercooled water in the rain bands to freeze. That would increase the size and strength of the rain bands and thus weaken the eye wall, diminishing the inner core winds. Researchers at first thought they had made a difference in two hurricanes, but in the 1980s the government finally concluded that the weakening of the storms probably was due to natural occurrences and STORMFURY was discontinued.
Could giant fans deflect a hurricane? Another idea, entertaining when you think about it, was to build giant fans along the coast and blow hurricanes back out to sea. Because Category 5 Hurricanes can reach winds of 175 miles per hour across a 400-mile front, just imagine how huge and powerful those fans would have to be. How would they be powered? How many would have to be erected? And would they have to be put on wheels so they could be moved up and down the coastline when hurricanes change course? And think how scenic they'd make the beaches.
Nuke 'em? For a number of years, the most frequently suggested solution was to nuke hurricanes. Aside from the fact that even the strongest nuclear explosion would have little or no effect on the immense power of hurricanes, don't forget the fallout. What we'd end up with would be radioactive hurricanes.
Would an oil slick work? Another novel idea was to coat the ocean surface with olive oil. No one now seems to have a ready explanation for how that would help. But it certainly would enhance the flavor of seaweed. A more practical suggestion was made Friday by a woman who emailed CNN. Why not, she said, drop manmade reefs off the coast to break up the devastating storm surges of hurricanes?
Just be better prepared The most promising idea, according to the Hurricane Research agency? Learn how to coexist with these forces of nature. Protect coastal wetlands so they can absorb the first hit from hurricanes. Enforce building codes so homes in hurricane areas are more likely to withstand the powerful winds. And don't build houses on the beaches. Educate people about storm preparedness. And help people in poorer nations prepare for disasters. Remember: Katrina killed more than 1,000 people but the Southeast Asia tsunami in December left more than 250,000 people dead. Kind of puts into perspective Americans' fretfulness about gasoline prices in the wakes of Katrina and Rita, doesn't it?
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