Bill Gates takes on hurricanes

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:49 PM GMT on July 27, 2009

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Bill Gates thinks big. His charitable foundation has poured $1 billion into the fight against that great scourge of humankind, malaria, resulting in the creation of a new vaccine that is 100% effective in mice, and is now headed towards trials in humans. If successful, Gates' efforts have the potential to save millions of lives. Gates has also turned his attention to another great scourge of humankind, the hurricane. In a 2008 patent filing that recently came to light, Bill Gates and his friends presented a scheme for reducing the strength of hurricanes by cooling sea surface temperatures, using a fleet of ships that bring up cold water from the depths. Can Gates really pull this off? I don't think so. The obstacles are fourfold: technical, financial, environmental, and legal.


Figure 1. A diagram from a 2008 Bill Gates patent filing, depicting an array of hurricane-control vessels in the Gulf of Mexico. Image credit: techflash.com.

Technical issues
While modification of hurricanes is theoretically possible, the scale of the undertaking is truly enormous. A fleet of dozens or hundreds of ships spanning a huge swath of ocean would be required, and these ships would have to be able to withstand the 50-foot waves and 160 mph winds a major Category 5 hurricane could deliver. As I discussed when a similar scheme was proposed in 2006 by Atmocean, Inc., it is not clear how long the cold water pumped to the surface will stay there--the cold water pumped to the surface is more dense than the water beneath it, and so will tend to sink, allowing warmer water beneath to replace it and warm the surface waters again. Modeling studies and field studies are needed to determine if the cold water can stay at the surface long enough to significantly affect a hurricane. Furthermore, simply cooling the ocean may have no effect on a hurricane, if the storm is in a favorable upper-atmospheric environment with low wind shear.

Financial issues
Any hurricane modification effort is going to be tremendously expensive. The cost of the array of cooling pumps proposed by Atmocean in 2006 for the Gulf of Mexico was pegged at $2.4 billion. Gates' scheme would have a similar cost. He proposes paying for it through government funding and the sale of insurance policies in hurricane-prone areas.

Environmental issues
A large change to the ocean temperatures over a wide area of ocean is bound to have significant--and unknown--impacts on fisheries and wildlife. Regional weather patterns may also be affected, intensifying droughts or bringing heavy rains and flooding.

Legal issues
Hurricanes naturally make sudden unpredictable course shifts, and the hurricane modification efforts are also capable of causing track shifts in a storm. Residents on the coast hit by the modified storm will want to sue, and there will be many lawyers more than happy to take their case. Gates would have to get special legislation passed to protect his company from lawsuits, such Congress passed for the gun industry in 2006.

Summary
In summary, we simply don't know enough about hurricanes yet to safely engage in modifying them. A lot more research is needed before we should spend the huge sums needed to attempt hurricane modification. The Department of Homeland Security has a $1 million research effort going that will attempt to answer some of these questions, called HURRMIT (The Identification and Testing of Hurricane Mitigation Hypotheses). The HURRMIT program is evaluating the potential of a number of hurricane modification techniques, including:

Seeding with tiny hygroscopic aerosols to suppress warm rain (Rosenfeld et al. 2007 and Cotton et al., 2007)

Seeding with radiation-absorbing aerosols (i.e., carbon black) at the storm periphery (Gray et al., 1976)

Seeding with radiation-absorbing aerosols (i.e., carbon black) at storm top (Alamaro et al., 2006)

Pumping cool water from the depths to the ocean surface in front of the hurricane (Ginis and Kithil, 2008)

Frankly, I'm dubious that the money being spent on HURRMIT is worth it, given the four huge obstacles to hurricane modification I presented above. However, the research may provide some new insights into hurricane intensification that we don't have now.

For more insight on this issue, read the Washington Post article published on this subject earlier this year.

In closing, I'll present the proposal one reader of an New Orleans online newspaper had:

"[Bill Gates] should just have one of his employees write an ActiveX Script for Google maps so we can just highlight the hurricane, right click on it, then select delete. Or maybe just cut and paste it farther out into the Atlantic Ocean."

Controlling hurricanes, Hollywood style
Hollywood's latest attempt to create a weather disaster epic is itself a disaster, as many of you who suffered through last night's installment of "The Storm" miniseries on NBC will agree. The uninspired plot involves government/military bad guys and a noble scientist who heroically tries to save the world, with a good measure of made-for-TV chase scenes, murders, and special effects thrown in. The hero scientist Dr. Jonathan Kirk (James Van Der Beek) has a scheme whereby one can control the weather by bouncing crackling streams of energy from a ground-based array of dishes off of satellites and into the ionosphere, which then gets "peeled away like an onion". Dr. Kirk then uses the energy to bring life-giving rains to the Sudan, and to steer a hurricane away from Florida. The trouble is, he doesn't quite have things figured out. Unintended side effects occur, such as the Mojave Desert getting 8 inches of snow the day after 112°F temperatures. More problematically, the hurricane heading for Florida strengthens instead of weakening. In one scene, a radar animation of the hurricane off the coast of Florida shows the powerful storm spinning clockwise instead of counter-clockwise, defying the laws of physics. Hmm, that's some pretty powerful weather control technology! The scientific basis for the weather control scheme is preposterous--ground-based energy streams beamed into the ionosphere would not appreciably affect the weather. The weather is made in the troposphere, the layer of atmosphere closest to the ground. Furthermore, the amount of energy needed to cause the kind of disturbances portrayed in the movie are enormous, similar in scale to the entire electrical output of the world. A small array of ground-based dishes could only channel perhaps a trillionth of the amount of energy required. The movie's special effects are cheesy, the acting average, the plot weak, and the science behind the the story completely implausible, making this weather disaster movie as disastrous as the equally rotten Day After Tomorrow movie. The movie's main redeeming grace is as a cautionary tale--weather modification on a large scale will certainly have unintended side effects, and we should not engage in such efforts until we have a much greater understanding of how the weather and climate work.

Scientific American has an interesting article that talks about the proposed Bill Gates hurricane modification idea in more detail.
Jeff Masters

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If not for the Masters' Blog
We'd be in a tropical fog!
No way to explain
Our total disdain
For a season asleep like a log.
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Quoting BurnedAfterPosting:


Yup exactly, there are just too many risks and its been mentioned we just dont know enough about hurricanes to try this out.

The money that is put into this experiment should be put into research to study how hurricanes form, how they grow from a TD to a Cat 5, to die-sect them. To get to know everything about them. Then it will be possible to control them, to make them less damaging. that's my honest opinion.
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Here to talk about weather
Tracking these storms together
But it is so slow
Hey wouldnt you know
I like these poems better
1159. Patrap
The Graph Du Jour for the week.

The season's just starting historically.
Ya'll got too much the last 4 years..2009 is a reality check for the uninformed.




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Waiting and watching for not
But the SSTs are so hot!
Is the culprit the shear?
Or MJO we all fear?
Whatever the cause, this season's shot!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
1156. Patrap
It wont ever happen,..too many engineering unknowns,plus..the US Commerce Dept would have to approve it. Never,..not in 1000years. These forces are just to Large for a single arresting cure all.
Best for the Movies,but no base in reality.
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Quoting AussieStorm:

What if what Mr Gates wants to do, is done 1 season and it does have an effect on the power of a Storm, its ability to to become a strong storm, then the following the experiment there is less sea life. Whats better. Less land damage from a Storm or possible permanent sea life damage???


Yup exactly, there are just too many risks and its been mentioned we just dont know enough about hurricanes to try this out.
1153. IKE
More rain...

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Quoting BurnedAfterPosting:


Again only to benefit YOU!!!

Apparently you could care less at who Mother Nature hurts, as long as you are fine.

What if what Mr Gates wants to do, is done 1 season and it does have an effect on the power of a Storm, its ability to to become a strong storm, then the following the experiment there is less sea life. Whats better. Less land damage from a Storm or possible permanent sea life damage???
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1151. Patrap
Tropical Vacation
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Quoting K8eCane:
There once was a blog name of Masters
That reported on weather disasters
Its members were many
Disagreements plenty
But they all could agree on them after


LOL Very Clever!!! I NEED a vacation!!!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting CycloneOz:
If only a wave would form
This time of year, that's the norm
Bloggers rejoice
All in one voice
"WE HAVE A TROPICAL STORM!"


lol very nice
If only a wave would form
This time of year, that's the norm
Bloggers rejoice
All in one voice
"WE HAVE A TROPICAL STORM!"
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
1147. Drakoen
Quoting IKE:


I think you need a vacation.


Seriously
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29864
Quoting IKE:


I think you need a vacation.


LOL you make it like I am the only one who has reacted that way, go look back at yesterday

I need a vacation? Nope I am perfectly fine thank you
1145. IKE
Quoting BurnedAfterPosting:


Again only to benefit YOU!!!

Apparently you could care less at who Mother Nature hurts, as long as you are fine.


I think you need a vacation.
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Quoting leftovers:
200mph gust plus could rip off hurricane shutters like toothpicks yes think it is a good idea to mess with nature alittle


Again only to benefit YOU!!!

Apparently you could care less at who Mother Nature hurts, as long as you are fine.
1143. SQUAWK
Quoting Patrap:
Yukon went to the Caymans and wont be back till August 10th


BUMMER!!!
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1142. Patrap
Better to be prepared than worried.

Confidence in knowing your prepared for a Threat is key,as confidence breeds winners usually.
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1141. Patrap
Yukon went to the Caymans and wont be back till August 10th
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1140. SQUAWK
Hey Pat, where is the "Nuthin" guy?? I miss him! LOL
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I worry we'll get like 9 storms total this year and then there will be that 1 or 2.
Member Since: August 31, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 833
NHC 8:05 TWD excerpt:

...TROPICAL WAVES...

A TROPICAL WAVE IS ALONG 21W/22W S OF 19N MOVING W NEAR 18 KT.
THIS WAVE COINCIDES WITH A BROAD MAXIMUM IN DEEP LAYER MOISTURE
BASED ON THE TOTAL PRECIPITABLE WATER PRODUCT FROM CIMSS. W OF
THE WAVE AXIS A 1010 MB SURFACE LOW...LIKELY THE NORTHERN
VORTICITY MAXIMUM ASSOCIATED WITH THE TROPICAL WAVE...IS
CENTERED W OF THE CAPE VERDE ISLANDS NEAR 16N26W. WHILE THE
SURFACE LOW ASSOCIATED WITH THE WAVE LACKS ANY SIGNIFICANT DEEP
CONVECTION DUE TO THE PRESENCE OF SAHARAN DUST...SCATTERED
SHOWERS ARE WITHIN 300 NM EITHER SIDE OF THE WAVE AXIS.
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1136. K8eCane
There once was a blog name of Masters
That reported on weather disasters
Its members were many
Disagreements plenty
But they all could agree on them after
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
1134. IKE
Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:



my own words
at the above chart with 4 days to go in july look at 77 then 09 you can clearly see that 77 and 09 are right on the mark so far for ace if the next 4 days go without cyclone activity 09 will be tied with 77 for ace

Ryan Maue's Seasonal Tropical Cyclone Activity Update from fla state unvi.
The last tropical cyclone dissipated on July 19, at 00Z (Molave) in the Western Pacific. All global basins are remarkably quiet, especially for the end of July. So far July ACE is about 15, well below the past-30 year average of 70. With a week to go in the month, some sort of activity is necessary to avoid July 2009 becoming the quietest July in the past 30-years.


Nice chart KOTG.
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Quoting mobilegirl81:
Oh yea, we were brushed by those storms but no NE quadrant like Frederic.


I was young when Fred hit but I can still remember the trees down,no power,and homes that looked like a bomb had went off in them. It was a scary site for someone at a young age.
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Oh yea, we were brushed by those storms but no NE quadrant like Frederic.
Member Since: August 31, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 833
Quoting BurnedAfterPosting:


Yea latest SAL map shows no SAL coming off he coast of Africa, looks like the surge is coming to an end. Could give the wave over Africa a chance too.


Woops. Just posted the same thing. It's remarkable looking at the climatology how much the activity usually ramps up starting in August.

I guess it's the combo of instability growing with more favorable shear over the MDR that really is important.

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1130. Patrap
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Good Evening all.
What's the latest?
Have I missed anything?
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Still a strong wave over Africa...doesn't look quite as vigorous but still one of the more impressive ones this year.
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Quoting StormFreakyisher:

I don't know because Max Mayfield said for the next 20 years since 2003, it will be above avergae hurricane seasons.


The peak is supposedly around 2020.

So, towards the end of the next decade, history suggests we may have another 1950 type season.

Major hurricanes galore...
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
A strange thing this hurricane season,
It's slow, and there is no one reason!
Some bloggers despair...
While other declare...
Wanting no storms at all considered treason?
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Quoting mobilegirl81:
I am located in central mobile county and stayed in gulfport, MS during frederic. Neighbors said they would never stay in another like that. This will be the 30th anniversary of frederic. Mobile's number might be up...missed the brunt of Dennis, Ivan (which would have scored us bad) and Katrina , too lucky !


Katrina was pretty rough here as I am located about 15 miles from the Mississippi line. Not as bad as LA and Mississippi got it though.
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You can finally see a bit of break in the dust just off the African Coastline up to pretty far north. Looks blue instead of brown...

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Quoting OSUWXGUY:
Quiet now, but we'll probably have something to watch later this week.

The wave near 50W will be moving into the Caribbean and warmer waters with favorable shear...

Also, the northward build of moisture along the west African coastline is impressive. Wouldn't be all that surprised with we get a live invest from the wave still over Africa.



Yea latest SAL map shows no SAL coming off he coast of Africa, looks like the surge is coming to an end. Could give the wave over Africa a chance too.
I am located in central mobile county and stayed in gulfport, MS during frederic. Neighbors said they would never stay in another like that. This will be the 30th anniversary of frederic. Mobile's number might be up...missed the brunt of Dennis, Ivan (which would have scored us bad) and Katrina , too lucky !
Member Since: August 31, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 833
Quiet now, but we'll probably have something to watch later this week.

The wave near 50W will be moving into the Caribbean and warmer waters with favorable shear...

Also, the northward build of moisture along the west African coastline is impressive. Wouldn't be all that surprised with we get a live invest from the wave still over Africa.

Member Since: Posts: Comments:
1120. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
Quoting sporteguy03:
thanks Keep!



my own words
at the above chart with 4 days to go in july look at 77 then 09 you can clearly see that 77 and 09 are right on the mark so far for ace if the next 4 days go without cyclone activity 09 will be tied with 77 for ace

Ryan Maue's Seasonal Tropical Cyclone Activity Update from fla state unvi.
The last tropical cyclone dissipated on July 19, at 00Z (Molave) in the Western Pacific. All global basins are remarkably quiet, especially for the end of July. So far July ACE is about 15, well below the past-30 year average of 70. With a week to go in the month, some sort of activity is necessary to avoid July 2009 becoming the quietest July in the past 30-years.
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 168 Comments: 53285
Here's something tropical related to debate. Should government be permitted to use force for evacuation orders? A new Texas law appears to permit such force.

Police can use force to compel hurricane evacuation

Article Source: Caller-Times, Corpus Christi, TX

*Sorry just noticed Dr. Masters has already addressed this. Anyway the article source link may be useful.
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Judging the looks of the atlantic wind shear forecast imagery, dry air and a dowmward MJO pulse seem to be the only things holding back the seasons activity.
Member Since: August 31, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 833
Quoting leftovers:
a andrew type storm hitting anywhere from south miami to ft lauderdale there would be nothing good about it might sink the usa ecomony. if we good take the sting out of these storm i think that would be great.


Yea but see you are only looking at how it would benefit YOU. There are severe consequences for messing with mother nature to this degree. I guess you have no problem with someone else suffering just so you can get a reprieve for deciding to live in a hurricane prone area.

If you hate these storms so much that you want to see them do this, then move up north.
Quoting mobilegirl81:
Hurricane Ivan rocked Pensacola, FL.

You have mail..
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1114. MahFL
Lots of babies are born 9 months after a hurricane.....woot !
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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.