Environment

The Conspiracy Theory Behind Matt Drudge's Dangerous Hurricane Matthew Tweets

October 7th 2016

By:
Mike Rothschild

Hurricane Matthew was bearing down on Florida, prompting conservative news aggregator and non-meteorologist Matt Drudge to take to Twitter to dispense some conspiracy mongering that doubled as spectacularly bad advice:

Drudge followed up an hour later with even more conspiracy mongering, in the guise of "just asking questions":

Drudge wasn't the only prominent conservative to accuse the government of inflating the danger of the hurricane and of intimating that mandatory evacuation was unnecessary.

Rush Limbaugh unveiled a bizarre, smug theory that the hurricane's strength was pumped up to benefit Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton because "there's politics in the forecasting of hurricanes because there are votes." He added that Matthew wasn't a big deal because his Florida house had been hit by a weaker hurricane, and it all turned out OK.

"This is the first hurricane to make landfall in the United States since Hurricane Wilma in 2005. Hurricane Wilma also went over my house. That was a Category 2. There wasn't any of damage. There was some trees down. …

"But there wasn't any structural damage, and that was 2005. So that's, what? Yep, 11 years ago. But, gee, if we'd' just signed that climate change deal last week, this hurricane would have quit! You know what? The hurricane would have seen that the U.N. had finally gotten serious and would have just dissipated, or it might not have even formed in the first place."

Climate scientists denounced Drudge's amateur meteorology as dangerous and fact-free.

Hurricane Matthew's winds.

Even Fox News' Shepard Smith laid down a hyperbolic warning to an audience presumably made up of climate change deniers, grimly intoning:

"This moves 20 miles to the west, and you and everyone you know are dead — all of you — because you can't survive it. It's not possible unless you're very, very lucky. And your kids die, too."

As wacky as Limbaugh and Drudge are in suggesting the government is lying about Matthew's strength, they're far from the only people pushing conspiracies about the hurricane. In fact, they might actually be among the less wacky.

Proponents of so-called "weather warfare" believe the U.S. government can modify the weather, create and deploy massive storms, exert mind control, cause earthquakes, shoot down planes, cause intense pain and sickness in individuals, and cause small objects to move — all using powerful atmospheric technology.

projection

Weather warfare proponents point to a secret government program called High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program, better known by its acronym, HAARP.

Countless tweets and videos about HAARP and the hurricane popped up as Matthew grew in strength, arguing that the hurricane is a government-caused distraction to bolster the Clinton campaign — just as Superstorm Sandy was for President Barack Obama just before the 2012 election.

Like many conspiracy theories, "weather warfare" has a small amount of truth and a heaping helping of loony fantasy. The government has experimented with forms of weaponized weather control, including the Vietnam War's Operation Popeye, a declassified attempt to seed the clouds over the Ho Chi Minh Trail and turn the key North Vietnamese supply road into mud.

HAARP is also real — and not secret at all. It's a large radio wave generator consisting of an observatory and a field of 180 high frequency antennas. The antennas can be activated at night to create a weak artificial aurora and extremely low frequency waves, which are studied to determine the effects of the ionosphere on digital communications.

hurricane-matthew

Sadly for the conspiracy theorists, that's all there is to it. Operation Popeye was generally deemed to be a failure, and weather modification for military purposes was outlawed in the late 1970s.

HAARP, meanwhile, is simply too small and too weak to cause hurricanes, tear tectonic plates apart, or take control of people's minds. It has nowhere near enough available energy, working antennas, or transmission power to have more than a tiny effect on a tiny part of the sky.

For HAARP to do what conspiracy theorists say it can do would require technology that hasn't been invented yet.

Many of theses wack theories were first disseminated in a 1995 book self-published by the son of a U.S. Congressman and took root in the nascent internet conspiracy community. They conflate bogus science, fearmongering, distrust of government, misinterpreted patents, and old-fashioned lies to turn a low-power science experiment into a weapon of mass destruction.

The skeptic website RationalWiki examined the science behind the claim that HAARP heated the Atlantic Ocean to the point of causing Superstorm Sandy.

"Multiplying the volume of seawater (845 km diameter x 50 meter depth) by the density of seawater [needed to cause Sandy] and by the amount of energy required to heat it and dividing by HAARP's transmission power [3.5 megawatts] and adjusting for the losses from ionospheric hops and surface bounces means it would take 420 quintillion years (4.2×1020 years) to heat the seawater in the target area by just 1° C. That is 30 billion times the age of the Universe."

Beyond the science, there's a simple reason HAARP doesn't cause hurricanes: It was shut down in 2014 and dismantled by the Air Force.

In the absence of evidence for any of their conspiracy theories, those in the way of Hurricane Matthew would be advised to listen to trusted experts, not to internet wags and political pot-stirrers.