Fact check: Baseless conspiracy theory about Hurricane Ian, COVID-19 pandemic circulates

The claim: The government engineered Hurricane Ian as part of a pandemic-related scheme

Hurricane Ian barreled into Florida’s Gulf Coast where it wreaked havoc on homes and businesses before advancing to South Carolina. Some social media users are circulating a conspiracy theory that this wasn't a natural phenomenon.

“The ‘storm of the century’ as it is being called is unfortunately another one of many examples of how the government engineers weather to completely destroy places and as always they will use predictive programming to show you they're going to do it in advance,” reads part of a Sept. 29 Instagram post's caption.

The post claims the government tricked people who were opposed to pandemic-related mandates into moving to Florida amid the COVID-19 pandemic so that they could then be devastated by Hurricane Ian.

"Sure seems like it all just a set up now!" reads text included in the post. "That's how Satan works. He is the ultimate deceiver."

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The post garnered over 500 likes in less than a week.

But the claim is baseless.

Weather experts told USA TODAY it is not possible for anyone to engineer a storm. Hurricane Ian has no relationship to the pandemic, either.

USA TODAY reached out to the social media user who shared the claim for comment.

Hurricane Ian was not a 'set up'

No one has the ability to create a storm, especially not a tropical cyclone on the scale of Hurricane Ian, according to Jase Bernhardt, a hurricane preparedness researcher at Hofstra University.

Charles Konrad, the director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Southeast Regional Climate Center, agreed.

“A hurricane has just an incredible amount of energy connected with it," said Konrad. "It’s equivalent to like a 10-megaton nuclear bomb that goes off every 20 minutes. And that's just a typical hurricane, and of course Ian was a very strong hurricane. There's no way that you could bring that much energy in.”

Furthermore, several atmospheric and marine conditions must be met for a tropical cyclone to form, Maria Torres, a National Hurricane Center spokesperson, told USA TODAY in an email. A cyclone starts after a pre-existing disturbance of showers and thunderstorms grows in time over a warm open ocean.

Fact check: Biden's comment about hurricane preparedness, vaccination predates Hurricane Ian

"If the winds in the mid-levels of the atmosphere are low, the disturbance can strengthen and develop into an organized area of low pressures with winds greater than 40 mph," Torres said. "As winds increase up to 74 mph and the center becomes more defined, this is when the storm is classified as a hurricane."

Bernhardt said that Hurricane Ian initially began as a cluster of thunderstorms over the Atlantic Ocean, strengthened over the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea, became a hurricane near Cuba and reached peak intensity over the warm Gulf of Mexico waters just before striking Florida.

PolitiFact also debunked this claim.

USA TODAY has debunked other claims related to Hurricane Ian, including baseless assertions that President Joe Biden advised people to get vaccinated in preparation for hurricane season on Sept. 27 and that an image shows Daytona International Speedway flooded by Hurricane Ian.

Our rating: False

Based on our research, we rate FALSE the claim that the government engineered Hurricane Ian as part of a pandemic-related scheme. Experts said it is not possible for anyone to engineer a storm, especially at the scale of Hurricane Ian. There are several atmospheric and marine conditions that must be met for a hurricane to form.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Baseless Hurricane Ian conspiracy theory spreads online