A History Lesson With Booze

Tinkering with Hurricanes and Drinking ‘Stormfury’

A US government project to weaken hurricanes wasn't too successful - but it did manage to scare Fidel Castro.

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Photo: Elana Lepkowski, stirandstrain.com
Photo: Elana Lepkowski, stirandstrain.com

In 1945, America conquered fascism. A year later? We took aim at a new enemy: hurricanes.

It started with “Project Cirrus.”  In which the military, encouraged by scientists at General Electric, flew a plane out to sea… over a hurricane… and dropped dry ice into the clouds.  The idea?  To freeze the water inside, weakening the hurricane.

That didn’t happen. But, coincidentally, the storm did suddenly change course… and charged straight into the state of Georgia, doing millions of bucks worth of damage. Georgians threatened lawsuits, saying the government had turned the twister towards them.  It hadn’t but Project Cirrus was cancelled anyway.

In September 1961, however, we tried again.  This time, bombing a hurricane called Esther with silver iodide.  It seemed to weaken the storm’s winds by ten percent!  So the next year, the government officially launched a program of quote “hurricane modification.”  They called it “Project Stormfury.”

Over the next decade, Stormfury planes — armed with special silver-iodide-stuffed rockets — took aim at a few storms.  But they only seemed to weaken two.  And eventually, scientists learned even those probably weakened naturally.  The flights ended in 1971.

Still, Stormfury wasn’t a total waste of taxpayer dollars: it provided data we use still today to predict hurricane behavior. Plus it freaked out our enemies. Fidel Castro later claimed Stormfury was a plot to launch hurricanes at Cuba.

Stormfury

While waiting out the storm, enjoy this hurricane-inspired cocktail from Andrew Volk, co-owner and bar manager at Portland Hunt & Alpine Club in Portland, Maine.

  • 3/4 oz light rum
  • 3/4 oz dark rum
  • 3/4 oz fresh lime juice
  • 3/4 oz raspberry syrup
  • 1/4 oz Laphroaig Scotch

Combine rums, juice, and syrup in a shaker tin and shake vigorously with ice. Strain into a hurricane glass or low-ball. Float the Scotch on top (like a cloud layer) and garnish with a lime wedge.