Video falsely links geoengineering and Hurricane Lee | Fact check – USA TODAY

A Sept. 9 Instagram video (direct link, archive link) features a weather forecast map showing a storm off the East Coast of the U.S.
“Category 5 Hurricane Lee,” narrates a man over the video. “It is a hurricane being engineered, built up in power and strength over the Atlantic Ocean, and it is being directed at the East Coast. How is this possible? Through manipulation of jet streams, damming up and releasing. Also, if you look up Hurricane Lee’s path, you can go and look at the mainland frequency techs set up to help steer and manipulate the path of Hurricane Lee.”
The post garnered more than 1,000 likes in two days.
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Geoengineering technology isn’t advanced enough to create or manipulate hurricanes, according to numerous experts. Hurricane Lee was formed the same way as most other hurricanes – as a result of a combination of specific atmospheric conditions.
Hurricane Lee was declared a Category 5 hurricane on Sept. 7, reaching winds of 160 mph in the Atlantic Ocean. As of Sept. 12, the hurricane weakened to a Category 1 as it headed north toward New England and Canada on Sept. 15.
As has been the case with many previous natural disasters, online users are falsely linking the hurricane to geoengineering, a type of large-scale intervention in the Earth’s natural systems designed to help counteract climate change.
There are two general types of geoengineering, the University of Oxford explains on its website. Solar geoengineering aims to reflect a portion of the sun’s energy into space to counteract increases in temperature, while carbon geoengineering aims to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
But geoengineering doesn’t – and can’t – create large-scale weather events like a hurricane.
Josh Horton, program manager of Harvard’s Solar Geoengineering Research Program, told USA TODAY the most commonly discussed type of solar geoengineering, stratospheric aerosol injection, is “very imprecise and could not possibly be used to create or influence a specific weather event like a hurricane.”
And the process “simply doesn’t exist and is not being conducted,” Horton said.
Simon Nicholson, co-director of American University’s Institute for Carbon Removal Law and Policy, and Alan Robock, a climate science professor at Rutgers University, previously told USA TODAY there’s no technology that can control hurricanes.
Fact check: Experts say technology capable of creating hurricanes doesn’t yet exist
Frank Marks, former director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Hurricane Research Division, told USA TODAY the agency doesn’t support any weather modification or geoengineering activities related to tropical cyclones.
“Any claims that any of those types of activities had any impact on Hurricane Lee are totally incorrect,” Marks said in an email. “Any man-made influences on Hurricane Lee were likely inadvertent and the same as those related to the changes in climate. There is nothing special about Hurricane Lee that has not occurred in past tropical cyclones.”
A research program called Project Stormfury attempted to modify hurricanes in the 1960s by adding silver iodide to clouds but failed. Hugh Willoughby, a participant in the program, told USA TODAY there’s no technology with enough energy to control weather systems.
“Even a 10-megaton (hydrogen bomb) releases only about as much energy as a single thunderstorm cell,” Willoughby said in an email. “The difference is the H-bomb releases its energy in a few microseconds whereas the thunderstorm takes half an hour. It would take many thunderstorms’ worth of energy to change the track of a hurricane.”
The specific methods of weather manipulation mentioned in the video aren’t realistic either, according to experts.
Jessica Matthews, program manager of the High-frequency Active Auroral Research Program, also known as HAARP, previously told USA TODAY the program’s research equipment, which includes high-frequency transmitters, “cannot create or amplify natural disasters.”
The radio frequencies HAARP transmits “are not absorbed in either the troposphere or the stratosphere – the two levels of the atmosphere that produce Earth’s weather,” Matthews said. “Since there is no interaction, there is no way to control the weather.”
As for jet stream manipulation, Willoughby told USA TODAY the technique is possible but highly unrealistic. He said the method would be “hugely expensive,” comparable to the cost of the Cold War or World War II, “and would require 200 years or so to achieve its goals.”
Marks told USA TODAY that Hurricane Lee was formed the way “almost all tropical cyclones form, especially those on the tropical Atlantic.”
He directed USA TODAY to a page published by the NOAA that describes the specific conditions necessary for tropical cyclones to form. The water needs to be of a certain temperature and the air a particular level of moisture, the storm needs to be located a sufficient distance from the equator, and vertical wind shear (the change of wind speed and direction with height) needs to be minimal.
Having these conditions met still isn’t sufficient, however, according to the website.
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Marks said Hurricane Lee was caused by an atmospheric phenomenon called an African Easterly Wave, which is a type of wave that originates and travels from Africa at speeds of about 3 mph westward, according to the NOAA page.
“About 85% of intense hurricanes and about 60% of smaller storms have their origin in African Easterly Waves,” according to the website.
USA TODAY previously debunked a similar claim that Hurricane Hilary was caused by geoengineering.
USA TODAY reached out to the user who shared the post for comment but did not immediately receive a response.
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