Raw Power

June 25, 2023
By Damond Benningfield

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Hurricanes generate massive amounts of energy which mostly results from the creation of clouds and rain. Credit: NASA/NOAA GOES Project.

A hurricane is like a giant power plant. In a single day, a run-of-the mill hurricane can produce 200 times as much energy as all the power plants in the entire world. And a major hurricane can produce several times more.

It might not sound right, but only about one percent of that comes from a hurricane’s winds. That’s still a lot of power—the equivalent of a 10-megaton H-bomb every 20 minutes.

Most of its power comes from the process that makes clouds and rain. A hurricane is fed by warm ocean water. Some of the water evaporates and climbs high into the sky as water vapor. At high altitudes, where temperatures are cooler, the vapor condenses to form clouds, which then produce rain. That process releases huge amounts of heat. The heat causes more evaporation, more condensation, and so on. Over a typical hurricane lifetime, that produces as much energy as ten thousand large nukes.

And that’s one reason you can’t kill a hurricane with a nuclear bomb—the hurricane itself is far more powerful. It would be like trying to kill a charging rhino with a BB gun.

You might wonder whether we could capture all of that energy. For now, the answer is no. For one thing, we don’t have the technology for it. Wind turbines aren’t designed to handle hurricane-force winds, for example. You’d also have to maneuver a lot of equipment into the hurricane’s path. And we don’t have a way to store all of that energy. So we won’t be harnessing the power of a hurricane anytime soon.