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A Meteorologist Explains the Validity of ‘The Hurricane Heist’

You may be surprised to find out that robbing a mint during a Category 5 storm is not the most feasible of premises

Cartoon illustration of someone robbing a bank with a hurricane in the backdrop Getty Images/Ringer illustration

2018 has already given us two great additions to the pantheon of ridiculous heist movies. First, there was Den of Thieves, a blatant, 50-Cent–led Heat rip-off whose grand heist of robbing a Federal Reserve bank required its thieves to traverse traffic in the middle of Los Angeles (?!) to escape an LAPD sheriff named “Big Nick” (a barely-hiding-his-Scottishness Gerard Butler). It didn’t work.

If Den of Thieves was the palate cleanser, The Hurricane Heist is the greasy, extravagant treat ready to clog up your arteries. The name of the movie is not a misnomer: In The Hurricane Heist, a group of hackers plan to use the backdrop of a Category 5 hurricane to rob $600 million from a mint facility. Standing in the robbers’ way is Treasury agent Casey (Maggie Grace) and a storm chaser named Will (Toby Kebbell)—and, of course, a giant hurricane that is blowing wind at 600 miles per hour. (Get it? Because the thieves are trying to steal $600 million.)

The Hurricane Heist has no chill, which isn’t too surprising, considering it’s directed by Rob Cohen, the mind behind the first Fast & Furious movie and xXx. The trailer for the film uses a cover of “Rock You Like a Hurricane” and shows the hurricane scooping up all manner of people and cars. The tagline for the poster is “Make It Rain.”

But just how accurate is The Hurricane Heist? Would it behoove robbers to use a natural disaster to stage an elaborate heist at the U.S. Treasury’s expense, the likes of which would make D.B. Cooper jealous? To find out, I spoke with meteorologist Eric Holthaus. He is a staff writer at the nonprofit environmental magazine Grist, cohost of the Warm Regards weather podcast, and, according to The Awl, “America’s weather-predicting boyfriend.” We chatted about the realities of trying to pull off a hurricane heist, the esteemed Sharknado, and the viability of other natural-disaster-related robberies. This interview has been condensed and edited.

When did you first hear about The Hurricane Heist movie, and what was your initial reaction to it?

I saw the preview when we were watching Black Panther, and it seemed—I don’t know, I guess really intentionally unbelievable. I think it’s pretty funny. ... I’m not really sure why they decided to make this movie, to be quite honest.

Well, is there any part of it that you saw that seemed remotely believable?

Not really. It sort of reminds of Sharknado, in that sense.

Right. Because at one point, an 18-wheeler is scooped up and thrown around by a cyclone that’s supposedly going at 600 miles per hour. Is anything even close to that possible in a hurricane at any strength?

I would say no. The fastest winds recorded in a Category 5 hurricane for longer than a few minutes is 175 miles an hour, and that wouldn’t be enough to lift any sort of vehicle into the air for more than 15 seconds.

In any category hurricane, would a bank heist be possible, or is doing anything outside in these conditions totally unfeasible?

First off, any Category 5 conditions would only occur over a few-mile-wide period. There’s no way to predict exactly where that would be more than a few hours ahead of time. And inside in that region, I think that [a heist] would be very difficult. You know, the rain is coming down so hard and it’s so wind-blown that you’d really have trouble doing anything outside.

So if people actually did try to pull off a real-life heist in the backdrop of a hurricane, what would be your advice to them?

I would say wait until it’s over.

Right …

Then, you know, there’s chaos and confusion after a hurricane. That’s probably your best chance to steal things from people, if that’s your goal.

So the hurricane really presents no advantage whatsoever?

I would imagine that there would be a lot of military and police presence around during a hurricane and after a hurricane. I’m not actually sure if it’s a better time to plan a heist than normal, than on any other random day.

One of the heroes in The Hurricane Heist is a storm chaser. Do you have an opinion on storm chasers? Are these guys like the bad boys of weather fanatics, just jumping right into a cyclone?

Yeah, I think so. I think that’s pretty accurate. There’s a lot of evidence that storm chasers make it more difficult for law enforcement to do their job keeping people safe during tornadoes or hurricanes. There’s been a lot of areas where huge traffic jams form on these rural roads because [storm chasers] block roads for people that live there.

Having a storm chaser as a hero figure [makes sense]. If you talked to one of them, they’d say that they’re doing it for science or they’re doing it for public safety, but the truth is we have a lot of technology now, like radars and satellite detection, that can capture that information in an unobtrusive way. You don’t have to actually physically be in a storm anymore.

So if The Hurricane Heist is pretty unfeasible, is there any kind of natural disaster that would be most advantageous for staging a robbery like this?

I would say maybe some sort of solar flare or something that shuts down the entire power grid, because you could sort of use brute force to get in to wherever it is you need to get in. Like if there’s digital security, everyone’s computers and cars—it all won’t work. So, if you can somehow figure out how to take advantage of that situation, a heist would be more likely.

I don’t know if you’re familiar with a movie that came out last year called Geostorm

I didn’t see it, but yeah.

Between Geostorm and this 600 mile per hour hurricane with the heist, which one—in your opinion—is more unrealistic?

I feel like the geostorm is probably a little bit more unrealistic because I don’t think there’s any even remotely possible way of controlling weather from space, like how it’s portrayed in that movie. That Category 5 is probably a lot more realistic, if you want to use that word.

Why do you think that Hollywood has this fascination with using these hyped-up natural disasters as backdrops for movies?

I don’t know. That’s a good question. I think that the Sharknado ones do it a little bit better, in the sense that it’s just pure entertainment. It’s clearly unbelievable. It’s so over-the-top that it’s funny and enjoyable. But if it strikes me as a little bit too close to being accurate, it just becomes really weird. The storytelling in The Hurricane Heist movie, to use a storm in some sort of planned or plausible way, seems really boring to me, honestly.

Do you have a favorite natural-disaster movie?

I did enjoy the first Sharknado. It’s fun to just watch sharks fly out in the sky.

Final question: Are you definitely going to see The Hurricane Heist this weekend?

I’m not.