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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Quoting Tropicsweatherpr:
Good morning to all.

I have a question about models vs development.

Has a system developed without any model support in the past?


I'm not sure beause I didnt know about the models then but I believe no one had a clue Humberto was coming. And he's a prime example of why they were/are worried about another spinning up close to home this time and not enough time to warn anyone.
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I'm not complaining about a slow season.
I own a home 75 yards from Bayou Grande in P'cola. My west-side neighborhood was hard-hit by Ivan. It was only thru luck that my home sits a few feet higher than most of my neighbors and I didn't get storm surge. Thirteen big pines came down tho.
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1861. IKE
Quoting Tropicsweatherpr:
Good morning to all.

I have a question about models vs development.

Has a system developed without any model support in the past?


Yes. Dr. Masters has said, if all models show something or none do...watch out. But you can look at a wide view of the entire Atlantic and see why these models are showing little.....



Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
1860. IKE
There are no active invests on the planet for the 29th of July. Incredible.


TROPICAL WEATHER OUTLOOK
NWS TPC/NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL
800 AM EDT WED JUL 29 2009

FOR THE NORTH ATLANTIC...CARIBBEAN SEA AND THE GULF OF MEXICO...

TROPICAL CYCLONE FORMATION IS NOT EXPECTED DURING THE NEXT 48 HOURS.

$$
FORECASTER AVILA



TROPICAL WEATHER OUTLOOK
NWS TPC/NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL
500 AM PDT WED JUL 29 2009

FOR THE EASTERN NORTH PACIFIC...EAST OF 140 DEGREES WEST LONGITUDE..

TROPICAL CYCLONE FORMATION IS NOT EXPECTED DURING THE NEXT 48 HOURS.

$$
FORECASTER AVILA
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
Good morning to all.

I have a question about models vs development.

Has a system developed without any model support in the past?
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Good Morning everyone. Nice blog 456. Thats the second time I have read about sunspots and the tropics. Although the first I read was Texas specific. And for the last few maximum and minimum cycles has been pretty spot on. Pardon the pun. Thanks for bringing it up. Now I have something else to Google. :) Here's what I read about Texas for anyone who's interested...

Long term trends/hurricane cycles. Studies were made back in the 1950's by Dr. W. Armstrong Price on hurricane incidence along the Texas coast and the sunspot cycle. Regardless of whether or not it is due to sunspots or some other interannual climate cycle, using data back to 1829 that are periods in the climatological record of "hurricane-rich" and "hurricane poor" sets of years. A hurricane-rich set of year is represented by an average of 8 storms making landfall over an average of 10 years, plus or minus a couple of either. A hurricane-poor set of years is represented by an average of 2 storms making landfall over an average of 14 years, plus or minus a couple of either.

Using this pattern, he correctly predicted the hurricane-rich period he was entering in 1956 (it lasted from 1954-1971). Using this pattern, it is noted that the Texas coast has been in a hurricane-poor period since 1990. This would mean that at least one more landfalling hurricanes should be expected by around 2004. Thereafter, a hurricane-rich period would begin, lasting until approximately 2015, in which nearly eight hurricanes would make landfall. Remember, it only takes one hurricane making landfall in your location to create grief for you and your loved ones.

This was written in 1999. And sure enough we had one more landfalling hurricane Claudette in 2003. And everyone knows what happened starting in 2005 with Rita. Since then we've had Humberto 2007, Dolly 2008, and Ike. So to my calulations we are halfway there in Hurricane numbers and almost halfway in years. Will be interesting to see if this plays out through 2015. Now that is just hurricanes not taking into account tropical storms. I don't know if this makes a difference or not. Just seemed strange but there may be something to it.
BTW I miss Levi too. :(


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1857. IKE
I'll give you a prediction....the next 10 days are quiet in the Atlantic basin.

00Z CMC and 00Z NOGAPS show almost nothing through Aug. 4th.

00Z ECMWF shows nothing through Aug. 8th.

06Z GFS has lows in the far eastern Atlantic, but they die by the time they make 40 west... all clear for land masses through August 14th!

If this weren't something that can cause death and destruction I would laugh at how slow it is, but it only takes one.
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
The tropics are in no condition,
to support hardly anyones prediction
we'll all be feasting for sho'
on plenty of crow
that was cooked up in Patraps Kitchen!


Mornin' all.
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Quoting Weather456:


Not necesarily. Tropical waves occur in a narrow band between 20N and 0N (Sub-Saharan). While dust occurs to the north near 20N and 30N (Saharan Africa). Wet active tropical waves move south of the driest areas across Africa but their circulations raises the dust and thus any synoptic feature (like the Azores High) can easily advect the raise dust into the Atlantic. The more waves we have, the most dust is raised. Therefore these wet tropical waves does not necessarily mean less dust.

Now, all this dust in July is troubling becuz raised dust is a nearly fixed factor over Sahel. For exmaple, if you have a bowl of sugar and you use it up, eventually you'll have no more sugar left. What is happening, is large amounts of raised dust are being advected from Africa and sooner or later their will little raised dust to advect into the Atlantic. This normally occurs in August and September each year with most noticeable years 2004 and 2007.
Asking questions shows how little I know,however if you dont ask then people assume you know everything..Thanks 456
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Quoting victoria780:
Just one question,with all this dry, dusty air coming off Africa,why is this???When you see areas of low pressure and rain continue in a train like fashion across Africa,you would think just the opposite..?


Not necesarily. Tropical waves occur in a narrow band between 20N and 0N (Sub-Saharan). While dust occurs to the north near 20N and 30N (Saharan Africa). Wet active tropical waves move south of the driest areas across Africa but their circulations raises the dust and thus any synoptic feature (like the Azores High) can easily advect the raise dust into the Atlantic. The more waves we have, the most dust is raised. Therefore these wet tropical waves does not necessarily mean less dust.

Now, all this dust in July is troubling becuz raised dust is a nearly fixed factor over Sahel. For exmaple, if you have a bowl of sugar and you use it up, eventually you'll have no more sugar left. What is happening, is large amounts of raised dust are being advected from Africa and sooner or later their will little raised dust to advect into the Atlantic. This normally occurs in August and September each year with most noticeable years 2004 and 2007.
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Quoting Weather456:
Good Morning all,

Nothing in the tropics really worth discussing this morning. Don't know when my next update will be but I'll let you guys know. Have a great day.

There has not been a formidable invest anywhere in the world for weeks. It's most/least surprising for the Western Pacific/Atlantic.

Record Low Global Activity

And if anyone heard from Levi, let me know.
Just one question,with all this dry, dusty air coming off Africa,why is this???When you see areas of low pressure and rain continue in a train like fashion across Africa,you would think just the opposite..?
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Good Morning all,

Nothing in the tropics really worth discussing this morning. Don't know when my next update will be but I'll let you guys know. Have a great day.

There has not been a formidable invest anywhere in the world for weeks. It's most/least surprising for the Western Pacific/Atlantic.

Record Low Global Activity

And if anyone heard from Levi, let me know.
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Quoting WeatherStudent:


Do you see it moving out to sea with that double layered ridge to it's north?
See the trough near the US east coast?
See the wind barbs between the trough and the ridge?
I'm not saying that this GFS run will verify, but that's where it would go according to THIS run.
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Quoting WeatherStudent:


Do you see it moving out to sea with that double layered ridge to it's north?


It dissipates by the next frame...but as for track yeah I could see it curving out to sea near Bermuda.
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The recent (past month) equatorial upwelling event over the Atlantic has been a major deterrent in further development of AEW's.

That 1-2°C cool anomaly in SST's simply doesn't have the heat capacity to maintain strong convection, especially when working in tandem with the numerous and routine surges of dust from the Sahara.

The Cape Verde season may not begin in earnest until the middle of August. By then the ITCZ may lift far enough north to lessen the effect of the cold water upwelling to the south.
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Ana?

114hours GFS.

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1838. msphar
I see 2009 has already surpassed 1998 as the fourth latest season in the last 20 years. In three days it could push past 2004 and then 3 days later supplant 2000 to become a true outlier second only to 1992. Interesting...
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WS; I think the newest runs have shown that the ridge will not hold in August and it may be September instead where it does

I am not sure tho, maybe someone else could shed some light on that.

anyway I am off to bed, later
1835. ycd0108
Where is Cyclone Buster in this discussion?
Bill has funding - that's good!
We do not know what cloud seeding or pumping cold water from depth would do - that's bad!
This particular year looks fairly calm.
I'd say we leave it be for a while
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A wise man once told me, as good as computers are, there only as good as the man or woman that put in the information. My point is, and no offense to anyone, but how accurate can a model project something that doesnt exist yet? I have more belief in them once something developes.
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Quoting WeatherStudent:


really? then what's up with all of the talk on this blog lately in reference to everyone saying that the bermuda/azores high is going to be dominant during august and that all of the systems that form during that month will move predominantly due west following the steering patterns of the ridge. with little to no chance of recuvering out to sea.


Whoever said that is correct.
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Quoting BurnedAfterPosting:


actually unless the system stays fairly weak, the high set up at the end of the run would take a system out to sea as well


If that pattern were to stay the same re curvature would likely not occur until it reached at least 75W.
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1831. gator23
Quoting CybrTeddy:


Even if its a slow season, a Category 5 in the gulf would be a season maker.


I know this blog can be gulf centric but a category 5 ANYWHERE would be a season maker. Especially since more people are on harms way on the east coast
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1830. GPTGUY
Quoting stormsurge39:
GPT i live in nw mobile county. We moved here in 79 when I was 10 and i thought a hurricane was a bad thunderstorm. I found out the night of sep. 12th that fredric was no thunderstorm.


Oh yeah I was born in Dec. 1979 so I wasn't born then but I've heard plenty of stories about Fredric and of course Camille because my mom went through both of them here on the Mississippi Coast...My first experience was in 1985 with Elena...I remember having to evacuate twice.
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GPT i live in nw mobile county. We moved here in 79 when I was 10 and i thought a hurricane was a bad thunderstorm. I found out the night of sep. 12th that fredric was no thunderstorm.
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1826. GPTGUY
Quoting stormsurge39:
I live on the gulfcoast and have been in some bad hurricanes going all the way back to fredric in 1979. This is the first year ive been on this blog. Im starting to learn things from some of you,which will help me understand when a storm gets in the gulf if the enviroment is helping it or hurting it.I have met a local meterologist this year, and she said the wave coming off Africa right now is the one to watch for possible developement. at 50w.


Hey there...where along the Gulf Coast are you? I've also learned a lot from this blog been here since the start of hurricane season 2005...don't usually post too much unless a storm threatens my area like Katrina in '05
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Quoting SevereHurricane:


Yea, 500MB Steering doesn't look too good at the end of the run. May I caution that this is 16 Day's out and is at very low confidence. But needs to be watched anyway.


actually unless the system stays fairly weak, the high set up at the end of the run would take a system out to sea as well
Quoting WeatherStudent:


thanks, so the second one could the potential real player here?


Yea, 500MB Steering doesn't look too good at the end of the run. May I caution that this is 16 Day's out and is at very low confidence. But needs to be watched anyway.
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I live on the gulfcoast and have been in some bad hurricanes going all the way back to fredric in 1979. This is the first year ive been on this blog. Im starting to learn things from some of you,which will help me understand when a storm gets in the gulf if the enviroment is helping it or hurting it.I have met a local meterologist this year, and she said the wave coming off Africa right now is the one to watch for possible developement. at 50w.
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Quoting BurnedAfterPosting:
1st system falls apart in the CATL and moves out to sea between Bermuda an the US East Coast

2nd system is at about 32W at the end of the run


I have no idea, that is way too far out to determine.

I have a question for you tho, how do you expect anyone to know some of the questions you are asking about the future tracks of systems?
1st system falls apart in the CATL and moves out to sea between Bermuda an the US East Coast

2nd system is at about 32W at the end of the run
1818. GPTGUY
Quoting quasigeostropic:
yeah GPTGUY, that is often the way to get deeper pools of warm water(apart from loop currents, eddies, etc)....But again, it has its pitfalls as well...Its all timing....Since the upwelling happened near the beginning of the season(in 05), the ocean was able to recover more quickly, but to a deeper depth...If it happened near the end of the season, the energy would have not been utilized very efficiently since cold air masses start working their way to the oceans near that time frame, dispersing the heat...


Cool I understand now...I thought storms just upwelled the cooler water to the surface I didn't realize they can mix warmer water to further depths
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Quoting Stormchaser2007:
Looking good so far



Its going to take a day or so for the Boundary Layer to adjust to the Oceanic Environment.
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Ok run is over, it develops a low with the wave at the end of the run too

So for the 2nd straight run, the GFS shows two systems forming; one towards the beginning of the run and one toward the end

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IYNgD5qguLY


Not sure if I hyperlinked that right, but it is a nice composite of satellite images showing Katrina just exploding after crossing over FL into the gulf...
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Looking good so far

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Ive always heard when a hurricane upwells water, that it slows developement for another. Is this true or not?
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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.