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 Brillig:
... detonate the oil tanker, creating a massive oil slick...do you think it would work?


Absolutely! You'll get a really awesome oil slick!

But your hurricane moving at 15 knots would disregard it.
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Quoting futuremet:
GFS is shifting to an out-to-sea pattern. The ECMWF still keeps the ridge dominant over the east.


Funny that you would refer to "the east" and then illustrate with a polar view. Which side is east?
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458. Magicchaos 1:38 PM PDT on July 27, 2009
Here is my 2PM tropical analysis.


Doc made you the afternoon moderator?
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I've had the idea that to control a hurricane, all that needs to be done is to take a large oil tanker and move it to the eye. Then detonate the oil tanker, creating a massive oil slick. The oil slick prevents the transport of water from the sea to the atmosphere, thus stopping the hurricane.

There are obvious problems with such a scheme, but do you think it would work?
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not as good as SouthPark...
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Here is my 2PM tropical analysis.



Right-click the image, click "View Image" to see the text clearer.

Let me know if I might have done something wrong with it.

EDIT: I forgot to mention that I moved my chances from 24 to 72 hours because I think my formula might be for a longer forecast length than 24 and 48 hours.
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Quoting hahaguy:


What you need is volcano insurance.



I love that show...lol
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
Well now we have no power.... Looks like we will get more needed rain..... Has been very hot and dry here along the north gulf coast....


Taco :0)
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Yeah, good wave at 5 west. The question is, have the waves at 24w, 43w and 65w left enough moisture behind? Looks touch-and-go to me.
Still a lot of dry air out there.
All other factors are in its favour.
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GFS is shifting to an out-to-sea pattern. The ECMWF still keeps the ridge dominant over the east.


Member Since: July 19, 2008 Posts: 43 Comments: 4051
appreciate everyones opinion. our govt cant afford to pay the money especially nowadays to do suck a thing anyways.
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water temp up to 70 in new york city wow
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nasty tropical wave approching the west coast of africa looks like we may have something for the first week of august ???

http://www.ssd.noaa.gov/eumet/eatl/avn-l.jpg
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With the storm still west. I saw a classic rogue bolt well east of the storm over the ocean. I thought I was seeing things until I heard the thunder. It looks like I'll be inside for a bit.
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Gates & Co.:
More likely to work IMO than the plan the doc explained...
Pump the cold water from the depths & spray it into the atmosphere under high pressure, as from the wand of a pressure washer or one of those evaporative cooling mist fans. It will cool the atmoshpere instead of sinking back down. When weather models get better, maybe they can be used to find the right place to a smaller change into the atmosphere (butterfly effect) to favorably change the track/intensity of storms, or even to create them to take advantage of more favorable steering currents (generate fish storms). How about more, but smaller TC(s) burning up that TCHP?

Back to workin' & Lurkin' after 30 day vacation on the beach WITH NO TC(s). Whoo Hoo!
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Great anology atmo.
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Quoting ftpiercecane:

Yeah, we are about to thumped down here in Stuart.


The lightening was really bad.
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Quoting hahaguy:


What you need is volcano insurance.



funny....................
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Quoting leofarnsworth:


Now can someone explain to me why the wave at 67W is not developing?


So much dry air and dust out there it's used tissues are probably funny colors (like when anyone in south TX mows the grass...well, when they did, that is...none left to mow).


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Quoting hahaguy:
Bad storm rolling through here.

Yeah, we are about to thumped down here in Stuart.
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Quoting leofarnsworth:
Try contacting your congress person... maybe you can get a generator as part of the stimulus package. Also, don't rule out an inverter which can be powered by your car. This is great for little things like laptops and phones.

Now can someone explain to me why the wave at 67W is not developing?

Dry air, bad phase of the MJO over the area right now.
Member Since: August 3, 2008 Posts: 16 Comments: 5890
"bigger snowstorms for the northern states? So its ok for others to suffer more so you who decided to live in a hurricane prone area might be safer? You live there, take the good with the bad"

Nail on the Head!
Member Since: October 18, 2005 Posts: 4 Comments: 3052
Bad storm rolling through here.
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Try contacting your congress person... maybe you can get a generator as part of the stimulus package. Also, don't rule out an inverter which can be powered by your car. This is great for little things like laptops and phones.

Now can someone explain to me why the wave at 67W is not developing?
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This is a very interesting discussion of the tropics from the San Juan NWS.

Link
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Quoting leftovers:
i just saying if your could of had a landfall cat 2 landfall andrew instead of a cat 5 it would of been better for most everyone. what if andrew with its intensity hit 70 miles north. if terrible destruction can avoided money should be invested to find out how.


uh duh. but not at the price of further damaging or clicking oceans, you are creating a new evil while trying to put one out
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If you're looking at batteries and inverters to power radio/TV/etc. you might also want to look into small solar panels. For not that much money you could get one or more panels to keep your batteries charged. Won't be able to run anything big like a/c or fridge, but you will be able to maintain communication.

Obviously this only works after the storm has passed...
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i just saying if your could of had a landfall cat 2 landfall andrew instead of a cat 5 it would of been better for most everyone. what if andrew with its intensity hit 70 miles north. if terrible destruction can avoided money should be invested to find out how.
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Quoting leftovers:
i am for hurricane research to limit the strenghth of the systems. slick it or whatever. whatever is needed. if we can change a dangerous cat 4 upon landfall to a cat 2 that would be great. nature lovers what if it is your house? there is a big difference between a cat 4-5 or 2-3. between having your shingles ripped off or your roof all your belongings all over the neighborhood, fearing for your life as scavangers with loaded guns running around looking for freebies. i got drilled this morning for saying this i will say it again slick it


so it is ok for mother nature to make up for the lack of energy in other ways?

bigger snowstorms for the northern states? So its ok for others to suffer more so you who decided to live in a hurricane prone area might be safer? You live there, take the good with the bad
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Patrap wrote... [snip] "The oil fill and oil drain could both be better located on the engine for more easy accessibility."

I started using 'Arnold's Gas & Oil Siphon kit' to change the oil in my generator. You just feed the vinyl hose down the dip stick tube. It sells for $22 at Ace Hardware if interested.

Link
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Quoting leftovers:
crazy destruction andrew a wk after the homestead area had a stench to it death. the smell of dead animals


Strange enough here in north dade we got more Damage from Wilma then Andrew.
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Under $200 is fine, I just don't want one with rechargeable batteries that will go out during the storm. I have a generator for after storm, but I lost power early during the start of Jeanne and Wilma and relied on the handheld
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Quoting NRAamy:
here in northern california we can get earthquake insurance but it's a crazy amount of money.

really?! I've never heard of anyone being able to get it...how much money is crazy money?


What you need is volcano insurance.

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Quoting NRAamy:
here in northern california we can get earthquake insurance but it's a crazy amount of money.

really?! I've never heard of anyone being able to get it...how much money is crazy money?


well i just called my agent and it really doesn't seem all that bad after all. Through the co. CEA California Earthquake Authority.

California Earthquake Authority
801 K Street, Suite 1000
Sacramento, CA 95814

Telephone Numbers

(916) 325-3800
Toll-free (877) 797-4300
Fax (916) 327-8270

it would double our homeowners insurance yearly and there is a deductible of 57k

hope this helps
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428. hamla
Quoting mikatnight:
a lady named camile

That was no lady.
i know buts thats the name of the vids
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Quoting leftovers:
i am for hurricane research to limit the strenghth of the systems. slick it or whatever. whatever is needed. if we can change a dangerous cat 4 upon landfall to a cat 2 that would be great. nature lovers what if it is your house? there is a big difference between a cat 4-5 or 2-3. between having your shingles ripped off or your roof all your belongings all over the neighborhood, fearing for your life as scavangers with loaded guns running around looking for freebies. i got drilled this morning for saying this i will say it again slick it


And you will get drilled again. Man needs to change his living habits and designs, not itentionally mess with the planet's thermal dynamic equilibrium to meet his poor planning and bad habits.
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During the Storm..a Good NOAA Radio is a much better info receiver than a TV,..if its Cat 1 or Above,..your not going to get a TV signal anyway from a Local Station most likely. The NOAA info is fast and reliable during the storm.
And much more specific. Like Wind and Tornado reports...or warnings.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 129089
Quoting SouthernBurn:
Has anyone found a reasonably priced portable tv that uses standard batteries? All I have been able to find (since the digital conversion) is a LCD with lithium rechargeable batteries. Those TVs only have a 2.5hr run time with a 4-6 hour recharging period which isn't very helpful in the middle of the storm.

Define reasonably priced. With the DTV switch, basic LCD TVs are going to be running $150-200, and the battery time will be lacking due to the backlight power needed.
Member Since: August 3, 2008 Posts: 16 Comments: 5890
Quoting SouthernBurn:
Has anyone found a reasonably priced portable tv that uses standard batteries? All I have been able to find (since the digital conversion) is a LCD with lithium rechargeable batteries. Those TVs only have a 2.5hr run time with a 4-6 hour recharging period which isn't very helpful in the middle of the storm.


Well the only ones you can use now are the digital portable tv's and the cheapest one I found was around $200.
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a lady named camile

That was no lady.
Member Since: October 18, 2005 Posts: 4 Comments: 3052
crazy destruction andrew a wk after the homestead area had a stench to it death. the smell of dead animals
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Quoting SouthernBurn:
Has anyone found a reasonably priced portable tv that uses standard batteries? All I have been able to find (since the digital conversion) is a LCD with lithium rechargeable batteries. Those TVs only have a 2.5hr run time with a 4-6 hour recharging period which isn't very helpful in the middle of the storm.



Deep cycle battery, inverter, digital TV converter, antenna, cables. I connect to a portable DVD player through its inputs from the converter. It uses very little power.
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@414. So I guess all the people who make their living fishing in the gulf should just be willing to go without work so that your house near the beach will be slightly less likely to suffer damage.
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Quoting Drakoen:


Why?


I was on there during Jeane landfall in 2004. My nowcaster urged me to call in from my stakeout in Palm Bay FL around 2am. I never heard of the show before then. I was over there to get the storm and aftermath on film. Crazy destruction from Cocoa to Sebastian.
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Has anyone found a reasonably priced portable tv that uses standard batteries? All I have been able to find (since the digital conversion) is a LCD with lithium rechargeable batteries. Those TVs only have a 2.5hr run time with a 4-6 hour recharging period which isn't very helpful in the middle of the storm.
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417. hamla
to all
while all is quiet for now you can go to youtube and do a search on 2 great vidieos
1= a hurricane named betsy
2= a lady named camile
these are documentrys and shows how things were done back then
its quite interesting to see how all acted then and how we all acted from katrina,rita,ike.i havee been a resident off slidell la.since 1961
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I have 2 generators. A 10 year old 4k watt Generac and a newer 10k watt Generac ( BJ's club, $1,800). Both with pressurized lubrication and filters.

I have had no issues with them what so ever. I would suggest if you purchase one, look for the idle control feature. It can save gas in the long run, when the load is reduced.

Typically a Diesel will run 3x longer with the same amount of fuel. There is plenty of info out on the web on this stuff, so do your homework prior to purchase. Buy with confidence if you will :)

Note: If you have a generator, ensure you put something like Sta-Bil in it to help the problem with the ethenol/water problem that will surface if the gas sits for long.

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Quoting NRAamy:
we can't get Earthquake insurance out here...no one can....but so far, so good...

:)


We got earthquake insurance here - had to go through USAA.
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i am for hurricane research to limit the strenghth of the systems. slick it or whatever. whatever is needed. if we can change a dangerous cat 4 upon landfall to a cat 2 that would be great. nature lovers what if it is your house? there is a big difference between a cat 4-5 or 2-3. between having your shingles ripped off or your roof all your belongings all over the neighborhood, fearing for your life as scavangers with loaded guns running around looking for freebies. i got drilled this morning for saying this i will say it again slick it
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Off to the RAYS and Yankees game with Daughter....you all be good!
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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.

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