The warning tweeted by the Coalition for Gun Violence on Saturday was simple: “DO NOT SHOOT YOUR GUNS AT THE HURRICANE!!!” Unfortunately, some arms-bearing Americans had gotten the idea that doing so might stop Hurricane Irma from advancing into Florida, and the warning was necessary.
For your safety and the safety of your neighbors, read this whole article before you aim your rifle, handgun, or pistol-grip submachine gun with a telescoping stock at a hurricane and squeeze off a handful of rounds. If you shoot any bullet into a hurricane, it will travel fast enough to kill someone, but its trajectory will be blown way off course, making it nearly impossible to predict where it will land.
It will, inevitably, hit something or someone.
As with any time you shoot blindly into the air, you never know where your bullet might come to a rest. Even when a bullet is fired straight up into the air, as Inverse previously reported, it will travel about 150 mph on its way down, which is definitely fast enough to hurt or kill someone. If you shoot straight ahead, into a hurricane, the bullet’s speed will be even greater.
But how fast?
So I can't shoot my gun at a hurricane?! I'm sorry, I thought this was America.
For the sake of simplicity, let’s use the AR-15 as an example, since it is the most popular rifle in the United States. The AR-15 typically fires a bullet that’s 5.56 mm in diameter and 45 mm long. In an AR-15 with the standard 20-inch barrel, a 50-grain (3.2 gram) bullet exits the rifle’s muzzle at between 3,000 and 3,300 feet per second, depending on your calculations. According to Federal Premium Ammunition’s ballistic calculator, after traveling 500 yards, the bullet’s velocity would fall to 1,152 fps — or 785 mph. This is still really freaking fast. Plus it would be delivering 147 foot-pounds of energy, which is a combination of velocity and energy that creates more than enough power to break the skin and cause serious injury or death.
But this calculation assumes that the bullet is being fired under calm, nearly windless (1 mph) conditions. Adding hurricane-force winds makes it much more dangerous.
If the wind is blowing 60 mph, as it might be during a hurricane, this same bullet will still be traveling with the same velocity and energy at 500 yards as the first bullet, meaning it is still potentially deadly. There’s a major twist, though: It will have experienced a huge change in its path.
The big difference comes from what is called “wind drift,” the distance that the wind blows a bullet away from its initial path. While it may sound strange to think that the wind can push something as fast and small as a speeding bullet off course, it happens. After all, a bullet has mass and surface area, so it can be affected by the wind.
These 5.56-mm rounds travel with high energy and velocity, but they can still be pushed around by hurricane-force winds.
After 500 yards, the first bullet — contending with 1 mph wind — will have strayed only 5.9 inches from its path. This is a big difference if you’re aiming for a tiny target, but in terms of safety, this is not such a big difference if you’re shooting in an open field, indoor range, or some other area that you know is safe to shoot. The second bullet, on the other hand, will have strayed nearly 30 feet from its initial path. This is a huge difference, and it suggests that you really have no idea where a bullet will end up if you fire it into hurricane-force winds.
If you’re reckless enough to fire a gun at a hurricane, the good news is that it will likely hit the ground before it kills someone. After 500 yards, both bullets will have fallen 79.1 inches from their initial heights, which hopefully would be enough to make them hit the ground. But if you fired them at an upward angle, they may still be in the air.
It goes without saying that there is no way that bullets will slow a hurricane, and there is a high probability that your bullets will end up somewhere you don’t want them to end up. For everyone’s sake: Don’t do it.
Written by Peter Hess
More From Inverse
- How Sandy Hook Changed My Relationship With My Son, and With His Teachers
- Detroit Cops Testing Gunshot Sensors Saw 400 Shootings in Just 4 Months
- New Opinion Poll on 'Smart Guns' Shows Shifting American Attitudes
- The NRA's Radical Stance on 3D-Printed Guns? Gun Laws Don't Apply.
- Twitter Burn of the Week: Jeb Bush's "America" Pistol in the Crosshairs