I think it would make sense for hurricanes to be combatted using shade balls to block the evaporation of the ocean into the storm.

What would we need to stop a hurricane?

Info on shade balls.

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    $\begingroup$ +1. I would give you two upvotes if I could. Even if impractical for so many reasons, this is an amazing conceptual question. $\endgroup$
    – Qami
    Oct 18 '19 at 20:48
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    $\begingroup$ Has the Great Pacific Garbage Patch had any noticeable affect on Pacific storms? $\endgroup$ Oct 18 '19 at 21:08
  • $\begingroup$ it would seem the cooler water underneath... because it is shaded... sinks. $\endgroup$ Oct 18 '19 at 21:12
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    $\begingroup$ @HenryTaylor density of the garbage patch is too low $\endgroup$ Oct 18 '19 at 21:22
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    $\begingroup$ I'd be worried about the ecosystem of the surface dwellers if you blocked up entire stretches of the ocean. Also, second Starfish Prime's point - the question of 'Can we' seems to be moot. A better question would be 'How' or 'What are the repercussions'. 'Can we' is just asking if we can stop hurricanes by blocking the evaporation of water - and the answer is yes. It's why hurricanes die when they make landfall. $\endgroup$
    – Halfthawed
    Oct 18 '19 at 21:24


This is just like using DDT against mosquitoes. It sounds like a Nobel winning idea until the consequences make it an igNobel winning idea.

By blocking sunlight over a large area you are also blocking photosynthesis over a large area. The wildlife under the shade will not be thankful.

Also, if you don't tie the whole batch of balls they will just be picked up by the hurricane. If you do tie them, then due to currents, waves and the strong winds over it the whole thing will likely fold upon itself, becoming a deathtrap for fish, turtles and cetaceans.

Hurricanes are made stronger by global warming. The decimation of phytoplankton through shading, which effectively reduces the trapping of carbon in the ocean, goes counter to that.

  • $\begingroup$ This is why the shade balls would need to be moved around. They would only be deployed in certain locations under the storm in order to prevent it from forming, where interference with wildlife is a moot point... because there's a hurricane, which is a much more significant threat. The balls have been tested in up to 70 mph winds. They use them in and around airports, so they have to handle high winds. $\endgroup$ Oct 18 '19 at 22:38
  • $\begingroup$ @joshua.thomas.bird Biodegradable balls might be in order, but you say they're used in airports? Can you clarify? $\endgroup$ Oct 18 '19 at 22:47
  • $\begingroup$ They're used to deter birds. This won't matter in a hurricane, as all the birds will have flown away from the storm. (Anecdotal evidence of wildlife running away from catastrophic events.) $\endgroup$ Oct 18 '19 at 22:58
  • $\begingroup$ I would argue against biodegradable balls, and for balls that can be recycled. That way we can learn to actually recycle plastic. $\endgroup$ Oct 18 '19 at 22:59

Theoretically Yes, Practically No

I'd say the theory behind this idea is sound. Lower the water temp and reduce humidity in front of a hurricane, and that will sap it of power over time. However, the sheer scale of hurricanes makes this infeasible to put into practice.

Los Angeles used 96 million shade balls to cover its Las Virgenes Reservoir. That reservoir is less than one mile square. Hurricane Andrew, which wrecked South Florida back in 1992, had tropical-storm force winds (36mph sustained) 90 miles wide, which is notably compact for a cyclone. Tropical Storm Nestor, which is making landfall on the Florida Panhandle as I type, is about 150 miles wide, at least per the NOAA wind map. Hurricane Irma, which hit Florida in 2017, at one point had hurricane-force winds 80 miles wide, with tropical storm-force winds extending well over 200 miles wide.

The LA reservoir had the balls packed several layers deep, so let's say we only need 25 million balls to cover a square mile with one layer. To have an effect on a small hurricane, let's say you'd be looking at a more-or-less circular patch of ocean 100 miles wide. The area of that circle would be pi*50^2 ~= 7,850 square miles, so you'd need upwards of 200 billion shade balls.

The city of LA paid about \$0.33 per ball, so we'd be looking at something like $65.4 billion to buy all of those shade balls. At that point, it actually becomes cheaper to just let the hurricane hit and clean up the mess afterwards.

  • $\begingroup$ Note that my answer doesn't even touch on the potentially massive side effects that a plan like this would have on the environment. "Let's dump billions of black plastic balls into the ocean right in front of a hurricane" is the sort of idea that gives ecologists migraines... or drinking problems. $\endgroup$
    – Salda007
    Oct 19 '19 at 9:34
  • $\begingroup$ This isn't really taking into account that the balls should be cleared up long before any wildlife returns to the area. And before the cyclone gets that big. And it only needs to be in the hotspots; Think about how many balls could be stored in a tanker and could be deployed as needed. I'm talking also about manufacturing the balls from the water and c02 in the air. Think about the fact that we could make the balls out of uhmwpe instead of just hdpe. Think of netting (also UHMW) that could be reused as hot air balloon skeletons, and fishing nets, and baseball stadium safety and bird cages. $\endgroup$ Oct 19 '19 at 12:37
  • $\begingroup$ What I believe really needs to happen is to run an experiment. Run a competition to see what possibilities exist for using shadeballs as a tool in this way. Part of the reason I posted here is to see what people can come up with. Is it possible to do with no objections? I think so. $\endgroup$ Oct 19 '19 at 12:42


It's a matter of scale. The shade balls I looked at are 4" in diameter. That means a cubic foot of them contains 27 shade balls. Therefore, 200 billion shade balls (100 sq mile circle) would require about 7.4 billion cubic feet of storage space

A standard 20 ft cargo container has 1150 cubic feet of space. To store all the shade balls, you would need 6.4 million standard cargo containers.

The largest cargo ship in the world is the OOCL Hong Kong, and it can carry 20,000 cargo containers.

So you would need 322 of the world's largest container ships just to carry the shade balls. And you'd have to sail them into stormy seas to deploy them in the region of a hurricane. Hurricane tracks and formation are still fairly unpredictable, so you'd need to spread them over a gigantic area. Then you would need to be able to unload 6.4 million cargo containers worth of shade balls quickly, and get all those slow, lumbering ships out of the hurricane zone.

Picking up the shade balls after they have been transported around for days by wind, waves, and currents would be a global-disaster-sized cleanup job, unless you can come ip with a shade ball that will rapidly decompose in sea water, and 200 billion of them decomposing in water doesn't damage the ecosystem.

It would probably be easier to use deployable sun-shades in space to deprive a hurricane formation region of solar energy. Not that even that is a good idea, but it would be easier than putting the shade on the water.

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    $\begingroup$ This and the answer by Salda007 underscore just how unwieldy this is at scale. Shade balls work when they're in a static environment and you only have to deploy them once. But the logistics of repeatedly deploying billions of the darn things in the middle of a hurricane and then cleaning them up afterward is ludicrous. (Or if you let them biodegrade, in addition to that probably wreaking havoc with the ecosystem (whatever consumes them will multiply rapidly) it means you have to spend the tens of billions of dollars on new shade balls over and over again.) $\endgroup$ Oct 19 '19 at 22:44
  • $\begingroup$ first of all this isn't even the densest packing of balls, second the shade balls wouldn't be stored in cargo containers that takes up space with the packaging, so no we would need fewer than 322 container ships, and probably the ships would be closer to tankers or a bulk ship, and there would be a chipper/sorter at one end and a ball-maker at the other; letting you store just the plastic, not the air and water inside the balls... This is a logistics nightmare, yes, but not the one you describe, and is manageable. $\endgroup$ Oct 20 '19 at 11:22
  • $\begingroup$ Again, strongly recommend against biodegradable balls, as cost is silly, the main cost is in the actual plastic we're using and recycling. Another benefit is that we get to practice recycling, sorting, and that's something humans are bad at. We need to clean the oceans of garbage anyway, so tech that lets us clear huge swaths of the ocean is something of a given to happen anyway. $\endgroup$ Oct 20 '19 at 11:24
  • $\begingroup$ At the scale we are talking about, the containers don't matter. Put all the balls in giant holds inside giant ships, and you might get 10% more shade balls. Container ships are very efficient at packaging their containers. So maybe you only need 300 of the world's largest ships instead of 322. On the other hand, on the reservoirs they are packed in multiple layers, which I didn't account for. Maybe we should double the number of ships. But either way, this idea is wholly impractical. Playing around on the margins with different storage methods doesn't change that. $\endgroup$
    – Dan Hanson
    Oct 20 '19 at 18:49

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