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Hurricane Otis stunned weather forecasters with winds that rapidly intensified in the 24 hours before it struck Acapulco, a Mexican resort city.
Such rapid intensification is becoming more common because of warming oceans, a recent study showed.
There are weather modification programs in use, but none that could intensify a hurricane or direct it on a path, experts said.
Hurricane Otis surprised weather forecasters, rapidly intensifying Oct. 25 from a tropical storm into a Category 5 hurricane. Otis sustained 165 mile-per-hour winds before it slammed into the Mexican resort town of Acapulco, leaving dozens of people dead or missing.
The storm’s winds increased by 115 miles per hour in the 24 hours before Otis made landfall, leaving the city’s residents little time to prepare. In the hurricane’s wake, some social media users are claiming the storm was actually the result of a weather weapon directed by the Mexican government.
Sticker text atop a Nov. 6 Instagram post’s video read, "Acapulco media blackout. Acapulco destroyed by yet another directed weather attack!"
The Instagram post’s video is a clip from an Oct. 28 episode of "Inspired," a YouTube podcast. In the clip, a podcast guest described the hurricane as a planned attack on Acapulco.
He claimed to hear gunshots and screaming in poor neighborhoods and suggested it was a "purge" being carried out by the government. He also compared the storm with the Maui wildfires, which he falsely said the U.S. government set intentionally.
This post was flagged as part of Meta’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.)
(Screenshot from Instagram)
We found multiple social media posts making similar claims. They play into a familiar pattern after natural disasters, when social media users seek to blame governments rather than Mother Nature. PolitiFact has debunked numerous such claims, including about Hurricane Ian in Florida, earthquakes in Turkey and Syria and Canadian wildfires.
Some forms of weather manipulation exist, the most common being cloud seeding, which involves adding substances such as silver iodide to increase rain or snow.
But contrary to the Instagram post’s claim, experts told PolitiFact there is no technology that can cause, intensify or direct a hurricane.
"None whatsoever," said Steven Siems, co-chair of the World Meteorological Organization’s Expert Team on Weather Modification. "There have been some theoretical studies about how to affect hurricanes/tropical cyclones/typhoons, but the infrastructure simply does not exist. And it would be most evident if it did."
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in a Nov. 7 statement to PolitiFact that its Weather Program Office "is not aware of any weather modification technology that is capable of influencing a hurricane's track and intensity."
Climate change is a likelier explanation for Otis’ rapid intensification.
It’s become increasingly common for storms in the Atlantic Ocean to rapidly intensify, a study published in October said. In the modern era — defined as 2001 to 2020 — 8.1% of tropical cyclones intensified from a tropical storm or Category 1 hurricane into a Category 3 hurricane or higher within 24 hours. (Category 1 hurricanes have sustained winds of 75 mph to 95 mph; Category 3 hurricanes, which are considered major, have sustained winds of 111 mph to 119 mph, according to the NOAA’s National Hurricane Center.) By contrast, the escalation from Category 1 to Category 3 or higher happened 3.2% of the time in storms from 1970 to 1990, according to the study, which cited warming oceans as the cause for the increase.
In September, Hurricane Lee also rapidly intensified in the Atlantic, gaining 80 mph in wind speed over 24 hours to grow into a Category 5 storm. It made landfall Sept. 17 as a post-tropical cyclone in Nova Scotia.
Andra Garner, an assistant environmental science professor at Rowan University and the October study’s author, said more research is needed to pinpoint all the factors that contributed to Otis’ rapid strengthening, but "it’s reasonable to expect that warm ocean waters played a role."
One thing that didn’t play a role, she said, is a manmade effort to steer the storm to Acapulco.
"I can say with absolute confidence that there is no technology in existence that would allow us to control where a hurricane travels or how it develops or strengthens," Garner said. "Any claim that such technology exists and is being put to use is outright ludicrous."
There also was no media blackout of the hurricane, as the Instagram post alleged. Major news outlets such as CNN, Fox News, The Associated Press covered the storm the same day it hit, and then covered its aftermath.
But there’s no evidence the Mexican government wants to remove these people. The podcast guest provided no evidence of a "purge" being carried out by the government, but Mexico did send National Guard troops to keep order amid widespread looting as residents sought food and water.
The Mexican government on Nov. 1 announced a $3.4 billion recovery plan to rebuild Acapulco. On Nov. 7, it announced a plan to triple the country’s deployment of National Guard troops to the state of Guerrero to provide better security in Acapulco, which the U.S. State Department forbids its employees to visit because of high crime.
An Instagram post claimed that Hurricane Otis’ path through Acapulco was a directed weather attack.
No technology exists that can cause a hurricane, intensify its winds or direct its path, experts said. Otis jumped from a tropical storm to a Category 5 hurricane in 24 hours but a recent study showed that such rapid wind intensifications are increasingly common because of a warming climate.
The claim that the Mexican government directed Hurricane Otis to hit Acapulco is Pants on Fire!
Inspired, YouTube, Unbelievable Facts About "Hurricane" Otis & Destruction of Acapulco | Jeff Berwick Interview, Oct. 28, 2023
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, emailed statement, Nov. 7, 2023
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Weather Modification Project Reports, accessed Nov. 7, 2023
National, Environmental, Satellite, Data and Information Service, Hurricane Otis Causes Catastrophic Damage in Acapulco, Mexico, Nov. 2, 2023
Andra Garner, assistant environmental science professor at Rowan University, email interview, Nov. 8, 2023
Andra Garner, Scientific Reports, Two hours of terror and now years of devastation for Acapulco’s poor in Hurricane Otis aftermath, Oct. 19, 2023
Steven Siems, co-chair of the World Meteorological Organization’s Expert Team on Weather Modification and Earth, Atmosphere and Environment professor at Australia’s Monash University, email interview, Nov. 8, 2023
Reuters, Mexico plans major military presence in Acapulco after hurricane, Nov. 7, 2023
Reuters, Mexico announces $3.4 bln plan to rebuild Acapulco after hurricane, Nov. 1, 2023
Reuters, Storm Lee makes landfall in Canada, downing trees and knocking out power, Sept. 17, 2023
Reuters, Insight: How two weather balloons led Mexico to ban solar geoengineering, March 27, 2023
U.S. State Department, Mexico Travel Advisory, Aug. 22, 2023
Mexico News Daily, Death toll questioned as Acapulco enters next phase of recovery, Nov. 6, 2023
The Associated Press, Hurricane Lee is charting a new course in weather and could signal more monster storms, Sept. 9, 2023
The Associated Press, Forecasters were caught off guard by Otis’ growth. But warming means more hurricanes like it, Oct. 26, 2023
The Associated Press, Two hours of terror and now years of devastation for Acapulco’s poor in Hurricane Otis aftermath, Oct. 30, 2023
CBS News, The ferocity of Hurricane Otis stunned hurricane experts and defied forecast models. Here's why., Oct. 28,2023
The Washington Post, Acapulco can rebuild from a hurricane. But how does it end violent crime?, Nov. 4, 2023
CNBC, How states across the West are using cloud seeding to make it rain, Dec. 17, 2022
The White House, Congressionally-Mandated Report on Solar Radiation Modification, June 30, 2023
National Hurricane Center, Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, accessed Nov. 8, 2023
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