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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Off to the RAYS and Yankees game with Daughter....you all be good!
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Gulf/Caribbean WV loop
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 421 Comments: 127566
Anyone buying a generator should consider the amount of gas it takes to run it for a day. As an electrician for 28 years and a resident during 5 hurricanes (of note), I highly recommend a small, quiet one that will provide basic needs and which only uses about 1 gallon of gas for an 8-9 hour run time. I have a Honda EU2000, but there are other brands equally as good.
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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?
Member Since: January 24, 2007 Posts: 317 Comments: 31946
Quoting leofarnsworth:
Just starting to learn... What is the blob just west of the lesser antillies that look like it is getting outflow?



omg love your screenname and that movie!!
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Quoting NRAamy:
we can't get Earthquake insurance out here...no one can....but so far, so good...

:)


here in northern california we can get earthquake insurance but it's a crazy amount of money.
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Yeah big dissapointment in no sales tax holiday in FL that should be a no brainer to have that every year.
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Just starting to learn... What is the blob just west of the lesser antillies that look like it is getting outflow?
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Quoting Ossqss:
Don't forget the battery and inverter for during the storm. You are more than likely not going to run a portable during the storm when power is out. YOU don't want to run it in your garage and end up having a dirt nap as a result.



I was shocked that people actually died after Ivan from running generators indoors. It's like really, people? Honestly? Maybe Charles Darwin was really onto something.
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Florida's Hurricane Sales Tax Holiday
Hurricane Supplies


By Theresa Johnston, About.com

This Sales Tax Holiday is NOT in effect for the 2009 Hurricane Season

In an effort to urge Floridians to get a jump on being prepared for upcoming hurricanes, Governor Crist has signed into law House Bill 211 establishing a sales tax holiday at the start of the Hurricane Season.

Beginning on the first day of hurricane season, this reprieve from state and local sales taxes will run for the 12 consecutive days of June 1 through June 12.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 421 Comments: 127566
Quoting Ossqss:
Don't forget the battery and inverter for during the storm. You are more than likely not going to run a portable during the storm when power is out. YOU don't want to run it in your garage and end up having a dirt nap as a result.


Yeah. Good, required disclaimer and warning needed for those running a car in closed, or attached, garage.
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Quoting Patrap:
In Louisiana we have the weekend before June 1 as a Sales Tax Free weekend for buying Hurricane Preparations items ,like a generator.

Also you can get a tax break on the purchase at the end of the year too.


Same here in Florida.
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I live in an apartment too Jeffs, my insurance company said they could take my wind coverage off my policy for a lower premium no way! Even I don't get a hurricane hitting me I think my risk is greater for that then a Volcano!
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Also,,having a good mechanical or Battery operated Vacum Pump ,grounded..for siphoning needs should they arise.
And they do.
It saved our empty cans a few times post K too,until the Calvary arrived en masse.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 421 Comments: 127566
Don't forget the battery and inverter for during the storm. You are more than likely not going to run a portable during the storm when power is out. YOU don't want to run it in your garage and end up having a dirt nap as a result.
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we can't get Earthquake insurance out here...no one can....but so far, so good...

:)
Member Since: January 24, 2007 Posts: 317 Comments: 31946
Quoting PanhandleChuck:
Maybe we should ask the President to supply everyone with a generator that lives within 100 miles of hurricane prone areas. The catch would be that it would have to be American made (in the USA). Talk about a stimulus, If there any American manufacture's. they would have to hire quite a few people for the production.


This is a really good idea (so please ignore my emminent sarcasm)

So like the slogan "Cash for Clunkers," they could use the slogan "Generators for Procrastinators"
Member Since: August 26, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 3617
In Louisiana we have the weekend before June 1 as a Sales Tax Free weekend for buying Hurricane Preparations items ,like a generator.

Also you can get a tax break on the purchase at the end of the year too.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 421 Comments: 127566
Quoting IKE:


Oh yeah...have to, with my mortgage. Also got insurance in case my house is unlivable after a hurricane.


Good move...my parents would use their RV's generator, those vehicles come in handy after a hurricane.
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Quoting K8eCane:


maybe Bill Gates could handle this instead of the impossible


LOL
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393. IKE
Quoting jeffs713:

I've been tempted to get a small one too, but since I live in an apartment, and the fact that I'm on the evacuation team for my office (if the office is out of power for an extended period, I get sent off to another office to keep working), I don't think it would get used much. That said, I completely understand having to get an inexpensive one. It is one of those purchases that you would absolutely love to have.. but there are so many other things that are needed at the same time.


Exactly.....like....

If your choices were...a generator or paying to get lab work done to check your kidneys(former dialysis patient), which one are you going to do?
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
Congratulations Storm, drak, shame on you. I think you say these things just to get a rise. (typical of the male species, I should know I have 2 sons, a husband, and a son in law!)
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I have heard that a power inverter hooked up in an idling car can give a fair amount of power on the cheap.

I know a guy that left his car idling for 4 days in Baton Rouge after Gustav doing this. Then switched to the other car for 2 days.
Probably not the most efficient fuel-use-to-power way to do it and you should be confident that there is no way your car will overheat, etc. and should have a few spare auto fuses should you screw up and plug in too much draw, but his worked to run the fridge compressor every once in a while and charge cell phones for a lay out of less than $50.
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Quoting PanhandleChuck:
Maybe we should ask the President to supply everyone with a generator that lives within 100 miles of hurricane prone areas. The catch would be that it would have to be American made (in the USA). Talk about a stimulus, If there any American manufacture's. they would have to hire quite a few people for the production.


maybe Bill Gates could handle this instead of the impossible
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389. IKE
Quoting sporteguy03:


Ike you have Homeowners Insurance or Flood Insurance?


Oh yeah...have to, with my mortgage. Also got insurance in case my house is unlivable after a hurricane.
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
Quoting IKE:


I'd have to get the lower priced one's.

I've been tempted to get a small one too, but since I live in an apartment, and the fact that I'm on the evacuation team for my office (if the office is out of power for an extended period, I get sent off to another office to keep working), I don't think it would get used much. That said, I completely understand having to get an inexpensive one. It is one of those purchases that you would absolutely love to have.. but there are so many other things that are needed at the same time.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Maybe we should ask the President to supply everyone with a generator that lives within 100 miles of hurricane prone areas. The catch would be that it would have to be American made (in the USA). Talk about a stimulus, If there any American manufacture's. they would have to hire quite a few people for the production.
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Quoting Ossqss:
Check this out.

Link



Nice find! :)

I gave them my info. Small, compact, human-powered...nice! Could come in very handy when you get stuck.
Member Since: August 26, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 3617
It also amazes me that close to half of the people that I know down here (even born and reaised) do not have a generator.

Am I paranoid, or are they complacent?



i was born and raised here. Generators are expensive, good ones, and you have most hurricanes just knock the power out for a day or two at most. so you live with it. then when you are in a storm and the power is out for two weeks and you have to go wait in line supervised by national guardsmen to get ice, you realize you have to bite the bullet and do without necessities if need be because you can't take a chance on going through that again without a generator! i keep batteries and water and can food and generator fuel on hand all hurricane season.
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good to know, thanks for your personal input
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Quoting IKE:


I'd have to get the lower priced one's.


Ike you have Homeowners Insurance or Flood Insurance?
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Check this out.

Link

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Quoting palmbaywhoo:
which do you suggest patrap since that isn't your words....



In my Experience Post-K,..the Honda never failed us once,even after having a water fuel mix disaster,..we drained,cleaned and dried the carb,..and she kept on purring for 19 days,..or Sept 16th when I left Nola for Memphis.

I Still have it today.

Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 421 Comments: 127566
380. IKE
Quoting jeffs713:
Ike,

What kind of things are you looking to power? I was walking through Lowe's the other day, and they had generators starting at $250 here, all the way up to $2k. A lower-priced generator would likely be able to run some simple things (and recharge cell phones) fairly well.


I'd have to get the lower priced one's.
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
Quoting IKE:


I don't have a generator because I can't afford one.


I just got Renter's Insurance after 2004 you can't go without it.
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378. IKE
Quoting Weather456:
Ike, if I lived in the US I would donated one to you. I have given several persons generators here cuz it's one of those essential tools. From how you type it seems you had a bad past with hurricanes so I would be more than happy.


Thanks...nice thoughts.

It's not that I'm poor, but things like my electric company having a 3 tier rate increase and the cost of living, makes it difficult.


Quoting PanhandleChuck:


Hey Ike.., You were not able to get one from FEMA after Ivan? If not, that sucks man.



Ivan was about 80-100 miles west of me. Just a few branches down. Last real bad storm here was Opal in 1995. All others were at least 60 miles away and the damage wasn't severe at all...TG.

Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
which do you suggest patrap since that isn't your words....
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Quoting StormW:
Out for now.


{Already busy primping for the show? :)}
Member Since: August 26, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 3617
371. lol..
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Quoting jeffs713:
Ike,

What kind of things are you looking to power? I was walking through Lowe's the other day, and they had generators starting at $250 here, all the way up to $2k. A lower-priced generator would likely be able to run some simple things (and recharge cell phones) fairly well.


i'd like to run my fridge and freezer
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Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 421 Comments: 127566
Quoting IKE:


Then what's the sense in passing the law.


It will be used to force the media to leave.

It will become known as "Cantori's Law."
Member Since: August 26, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 3617
Ike,

What kind of things are you looking to power? I was walking through Lowe's the other day, and they had generators starting at $250 here, all the way up to $2k. A lower-priced generator would likely be able to run some simple things (and recharge cell phones) fairly well.
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like I said, I've got Midol if anyone needs some...
Member Since: January 24, 2007 Posts: 317 Comments: 31946
Quoting IKE:


I don't have a generator because I can't afford one.


Hey Ike.., You were not able to get one from FEMA after Ivan? If not, that sucks man.
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How to Choose a portable Generator

Determine what you will use it for to search for the right sized unit
For example: running a 100 watt light bulb, a 200 watt slow cooker, a 1,200 watt refrigerator with a start up wattage of 2,900 watts and a 750 watt TV would require 3,950 watts. Expect to pay from 400 to 500 Dollars
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 421 Comments: 127566
Quoting twhcracker:
Could I ask a possibly stupid question... if there is a High over the gom, then why are we having rain and storms etc. usually when there is a High there are hardly even clouds around. Also, Can we get Barometer Bob on the net?

The high over the GOM isn't very deep or strong. When a high is present at all levels and is fairly strong (look over SE TX during June for an example), you can watch eveything spin around it. Right now, its just not strong enough to do much. (thankfully)
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Ike, if I lived in the US I would donated one to you. I have given several persons generators here cuz it's one of those essential tools. From how you type it seems you had a bad past with hurricanes so I would be more than happy.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:

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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.