Could sonic booms stop hurricanes?


University of Akron Professor of Polymer Engineering and Applied Mathematics Dr. Arkadii Leonov has come up with a novel means to stop a hurricane, and his discovery has received a storm of attention from science writers across the globe.

Dr. Arkadii Leonov

Dr. Arkadii Leonov

Leonov's concept, under patent application and titled "Hurricane Suppression by Supersonic Boom," reveals that hurricanes can be destabilized with the ultrasonic boom produced by jet fighters. Leonov explains that jets, flying at supersonic speeds clockwise around an eye of a hurricane, would suppress the storm.

"Our main idea is to destabilize hurricanes using a small energy supply and an inexpensive and environmentally friendly method," says Leonov, who explains that theories posed in the past came with implications such as nuclear physicist Edward Teller's idea to use a nuclear bomb to destroy a hurricane. While the method has promise of success, it would infect the ocean for years, Leonov says. Another concept, presented by Israeli scientists, to use chemicals to draw rain from the clouds, would not stifle the primary culprit: the hurricane, Leonov explains.

Describing hurricanes as huge, stable, natural aerodynamic and thermodynamic machines that rotate counterclockwise, Leonov says that the pressure outside the most active hurricane cylinder, or eye wall, is greater than that in the hurricane center. He also explains that the upward vertical airflow in the eye wall delivers air with humidity to a condensation level of about 1.5 kilometers. This condensation releases heat and significantly increases temperatures, which he says is imperative to overcome the stability threshold for existence of the upper part of a hurricane.

"Our method will hopefully destabilize all three components in stable hurricanes. Although the ultrasonic boom created by the jet fighters is localized, it has overwhelming energy as compared with that of local air masses in the hurricane," Leonov says. "Choosing slightly descending spiral trajectories flying in a clockwise direction will drastically increase the local pressure inside the hurricane, destabilize the direction of air rotation and stop the upward supply of wet air."

Demand on pilots

While the hurricane speeds of about 150 kilometers per hour are not dangerous to fighter jets flying at desired supersonic speeds of up to 1,800 kilometers per hour, the pilots would contend with heavy fog and acceleration, or g-factor, during turns, Leonov explains.

"Skillful pilots can hopefully overcome these challenges," says Leonov. He points out that a turning radius of about 200 kilometers creates an approximate 4 g-factor, which is less than half of the overloads with which skilled pilots have been trained.

Working in various areas of applied math and physics including geophysical fluid dynamics, Leonov decided to patent his idea when he was working alone without funding on theoretical models after 2005 Hurricane Katrina's devastating effects. Recently completed and preliminarily published, Leonov's research is aimed at understanding hurricane physics and dynamics.

In February 2008, Leonov presented results of his hurricane research, "Aerodynamic Models for Hurricanes: Hurricane Genesis, Functioning, Propagation and Suppression," through two UA Department of Theoretical and Applied Mathematics seminars. These results have been primarily published in electronic journal.

Use for forecasting

"In spite of being purely theoretical, it might be used for forecasting hurricanes easily," Leonov says. "The patent application is a byproduct of this understanding, signaling that something should be done to prevent hurricane consequences."

Leonov says the "stir" made by his discovery might prompt U.S. Air Force tests, which could require several F-4 jet fighters flying at maximum supersonic speeds of about 1,800 kilometers per hour with safety measures and hurricane fog orientation fully in check.