Some meteorologists and geologists speculate that the collision would be like a pair of agitated gorillas: two giants making a lot of noise, shaking the ground, and then parting ways. It’s unlikely the volcano would make much of a dent in this battle. “As massive as the impact of a volcanic eruption can be, it’s hard to grasp the scale of a hurricane,” says David Nolan, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Miami. “The eye wall of a hurricane typically has a radius of 30 miles. Off the top of my head, I'd say the primary updraft from a volcano is just one mile across.”
As a result, he explains, almost anything a volcano can do to disrupt a storm would be localized and likely erased as it moved along. Tracy Gregg, a geologist at the University at Buffalo, also emphasizes how little impact typical volcanic eruptions would likely have on such a powerful storm. “A volcano punching up through [a hurricane] would be a smudge on the windshield,” she says.
Nevertheless, there are certain circumstances that could be much more extreme. It’s possible that a volcano’s intense heat—lava can register 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit—could intensify a tropical cyclone. Heat evaporates seawater, which rises to create thunderstorms. No heat, no storm. And an explosive eruption might still temporarily disrupt areas within a hurricane. For instance, dust shot into the atmosphere could delay or accelerate rainfall, Nolan says. One study suggests the dust would contribute to more lightning. In fact, massive eruptions often generate cinematic lightning within their boiling black clouds.
More intriguing—and terrifying—is a theory that a submerged, massive volcano could heat enough ocean water to supercharge a Category 5 hurricane or super typhoon. Heating the already abundant heat of tropical waters would make storms bigger and stronger, and do it in less time. Jeff Masters, the meteorology director at Weather Underground, says such an underwater eruption might even spin up something called a hypercane, with winds reaching the speed of sound.
It would take “an awful big coincidence” for this to happen, Masters reassures: The volcano would have to be big enough and hot enough to heat hundreds of miles of the ocean’s surface to 122 degrees. Standard weather dynamics would take it from there. “It’s theoretically possible,” Masters says. So is the possibility that a hypercane could inject enough water into the stratosphere to block the sun, creating a years-long global winter.
Team Hurricane’s fever dream is more mundane. Some think the low air pressure in a hurricane’s eye might weakly draw up the contents of a volcano, like a TV cowboy sucking venom from his cowpoke friend's snakebite wound. But “that’s really unlikely,” Gregg says. After all, volcanoes begin 1,800 miles down, where temperatures exceed 6,700 degrees, and liquid rock (or magma) is squeezed by pressures that are 1.4 million times greater than air at sea level. A change in air pressure over a volcano is like a fly buzzing off an elephant’s back.