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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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.
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361. IKE
Quoting jeffs713:
Drak,

Did you wake up on the wrong side of the bed this morning? Or did someone do something to your wheaties today? You seem unusually caustic and negative today. (at least, more than usual)


His patience on the 2009 Atlantic hurricane season is wearing thin.
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360. IKE
Quoting K8eCane:


i dont have one either for the same reason


Props for being honest.
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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?


There isn't...
Member Since: July 19, 2008 Posts: 43 Comments: 4051
Drak,

Did you wake up on the wrong side of the bed this morning? Or did someone do something to your wheaties today? You seem unusually caustic and negative today. (at least, more than usual)
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357. IKE
Quoting Drakoen:


StSimons should be able to buy you one since he can afford a 5,000sq ft home. Kman too...


Maybe they'll feel sorry for me and send one. I'm a middle income survivor.:)

12Z ECMWF looks quiet through August 6th.....
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barometerbobshow.com
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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?
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Quoting Drakoen:


StSimons should be able to buy you one since he can afford a 5,000sq ft home. Kman too...


i dont have one either for the same reason
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Hummm, seems we have a drifting sediment issue in here. No, not sentiment :)
Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8186
Well said Patrap!
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Quoting PanhandleChuck:
Hey all.... I am seeing people become a little complacent in my neck of the woods IMO. I hear them saying we not gonna get a storm for a few more years because "it hasn't been long enough since the last one." It does amaze me that folks who went through Ivan in this area could have forgotten what it was like during and after the storm.

I am a transplant from Ohio (Go Buckeye's), but I have taken all of the necessary precautions to be prepared for a hurricane if it heads my way. There are others that have been transplanted from Ohio and as much as I preach to them about being prepared, none of them have lifted a finger to do so. 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?


They are definitely complacent (and I personally worry about their mental faculties). Less than one year removed from Hurricane Ike, it is amazing to see people griping about power companies tree trimming (they must have forgotten about not having power for 2 weeks), people that haven't built even a basic hurricane kit yet, and people who haven't even developed a plan with their family regarding a possible hurricane strike.

Last year, I would have been urging these people to prepare and be ready. This year, I'm taking the approach of "if they don't prepare, its their own darn fault". The media and local authorities have been working very hard to get the word out, and there are just too many people not listening. If (God forbid) a hurricane does strike the Houston area again, I will be one of those people laughing at those waiting in line at Wal-Mart the day before a storm wondering why there isn't any bottled water.. since I already have all of my supplies. (Well, I still need to get some leather gloves, but that isn't exactly part of my kit... more for helping out after the storm)
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Hurricane Hollow has been round long time,and Bob Brookens is a great contributor to preparation and serving the needs of the weather minded community Basin Wide. His Storm Chat is a good real time place to banter a active system too.

hurricanehollow.org

Bob was awarded a Citation Award for his Broadcasting from the NHC Director last year at the 2008 Hurricane Conference. Im a friend of Bob and shared a few post K experiences on his Show in 2007 and 2008.
And ,..Bob does all his shows live from Neast Fla from his own Home.
Not a bad effort if I do say so myself.


Max Mayfield presenting Robert Brookens with a special award during the 2008 National Hurricane Conference.

Hurricane Hollow's Mission Statement
Welcome to Hurricane Hollow Weather. Our mission is to educate people of the dangers of landfalling tropical cyclones, tornados, and severe weather. Yes, this is being performed by NOAA, and FEMA as well as other government agencies world wide. But, based on experience most people respond better by receiving information like this from outside outlets.

To be able to share the first hand knowledge of the dangers of catastrophic disasters and to help people learn how to be more aware of how the weather works, and in turn, they will be able to help their families, friends, and neighbors learn to be better prepared for such disasters. To be prepared before, during and after a major severe weather event can make the aftermath less traumatic. This will also alleaviate the burden on resources, so those in desperate situations will receive assistance from government agencies in a timely fashion.

Robert Brookens, president of Hurricane Hollow Weather Corporation, has encountered all types of severe weather. From Winter Storms, Hurricanes, Tropical Storms, Floods, Hail Storms, Ice Storms, and Tornados. Robert has also been self-teaching meteorology, is certified by FEMA in Emergency Preparedness, an associate member of the American Meteorological Society (AMS) and National Weather Association (NWA). Has also been hosting basic and advanced storm spotter classes over the past years with the National Weather Service. This combined with seminars, and visits to schools, 4-H clubs, scout troops, amatuer radio clubs, churchs, and other organizations, makes Hurricane Hollow Weather Corporation one of the most knowledgable non-profit organizations that is solely operated for the enhancement in education of awareness and preparedness of severe weather and disaster occurances.

We believe that knowledge is our best weapon against a major disaster. Whether it be a hurricane, tornado, or unnatural disaster.

Hurricane Hollow Weather is registered with the State of Florida as a Non-Profit Corporation.

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StormW that's great news, someone email me the link to BB show TIA.
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340. Not quite sure how to prepare for an earthquake...just kept the stuff from our hurricane cabinet (flashlights, radios etc) and water on hand. Guess I better get it together a bit more.
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346. IKE
Quoting PanhandleChuck:
Hey all.... I am seeing people become a little complacent in my neck of the woods IMO. I hear them saying we not gonna get a storm for a few more years because "it hasn't been long enough since the last one." It does amaze me that folks who went through Ivan in this area could have forgotten what it was like during and after the storm.

I am a transplant from Ohio (Go Buckeye's), but I have taken all of the necessary precautions to be prepared for a hurricane if it heads my way. There are others that have been transplanted from Ohio and as much as I preach to them about being prepared, none of them have lifted a finger to do so. 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 don't have a generator because I can't afford one.
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Quoting StSimonsIslandGAGuy:
Oh I don't know, sometimes Barometer Bob is pretty good :)


I've only listened to his show what twice maybe. I don't have the attention span to deal with the side comments and personal garbage.
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Quoting Drakoen:


I wouldn't want to be on there. I don't even know Barometer Bob personally.

you can really be an ass sometimes. Just like me
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Impressive, a bit of easterly shear though

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You're right Chuck...

If you live in an earthquake zone, you learn and prepare for earthquakes. Ditto for hurricane zones. Those that don't, get to join the lemmings when the show starts.
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is it time for a Midol moment?
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Quoting StSimonsIslandGAGuy:
Drakoen have you ever been on the Barometer Bob show?


I wouldn't want to be on there. I don't even know Barometer Bob personally.
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Quoting PanhandleChuck:
Hey all.... I am seeing people become a little complacent in my neck of the woods IMO. I hear them saying we not gonna get a storm for a few more years because "it hasn't been long enough since the last one." It does amaze me that folks who went through Ivan in this area could have forgotten what it was like during and after the storm.

I am a transplant from Ohio (Go Buckeye's), but I have taken all of the necessary precautions to be prepared for a hurricane if it heads my way. There are others that have been transplanted from Ohio and as much as I preach to them about being prepared, none of them have lifted a finger to do so. 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?



Better to be ready......then not
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Quoting WeatherStudent:
good afternoon, senior chief forecaster. so, are y'all folks still thinking that we'll have ana by or around my b-day?


JFVster, it is Executive Master Senior Chief. Get it right next time
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Scheduled Broadcast for the Barometer Bob Show

The Barometer Bob Show for July 30, 2009!


Listen to the show as I discuss the tropics and current weather across the Nation. As well as Weather News from around the world.
My guest will be T.F "Storm" Walsh III most of you know him as StormW in the weather communities on the Internet.

We will discuss the tropics, what's going on, and when could we begin to see something forming in the tropics.

The show starts at 8pm/et and you can listen live at WRBN.Net
You can call into the show LIVE at 1-866-931-8437(U.S.A Toll Free) or 904-259-4229 World Wide (Tolls Apply) With your host Barometer Bob Brookens from Hurricane Hollow Weather!

Join me in Storm Chat during the show!
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Quoting PanhandleChuck:
Hey all.... I am seeing people become a little complacent in my neck of the woods IMO. I hear them saying we not gonna get a storm for a few more years because "it hasn't been long enough since the last one." It does amaze me that folks who went through Ivan in this area could have forgotten what it was like during and after the storm.

I am a transplant from Ohio (Go Buckeye's), but I have taken all of the necessary precautions to be prepared for a hurricane if it heads my way. There are others that have been transplanted from Ohio and as much as I preach to them about being prepared, none of them have lifted a finger to do so. 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?



They are complacent. Trust me if anyone thinks you are paranoid for being prepared, then they are too complacent. It amazes me that anyone could be complacent after what has occured the last 5 hurricane seasons.
Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
maybe at the end of the season barometer bob can have a special drama night with jfv and drakoen on the show it can be called the drama queen party

lol

Highest ratings night EVER.
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Quoting PanhandleChuck:
Hey all.... I am seeing people become a little complacent in my neck of the woods IMO. I hear them saying we not gonna get a storm for a few more years because "it hasn't been long enough since the last one." It does amaze me that folks who went through Ivan in this area could have forgotten what it was like during and after the storm.

I am a transplant from Ohio (Go Buckeye's), but I have taken all of the necessary precautions to be prepared for a hurricane if it heads my way. There are others that have been transplanted from Ohio and as much as I preach to them about being prepared, none of them have lifted a finger to do so. 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?



Both..........Lol
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Quoting IKE:


Then what's the sense in passing the law.

Welcome to Texas.

The same state where you can get on a governor-appointed board with the task of administering insurance law, yet have no experience in insurance or law.
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Quoting StormW:


Why not?
maybe at the end of the season barometer bob can have a special drama night with jfv and drakoen on the show it can be called the drama queen party

lol
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 174 Comments: 54473
Interesting article on Florida harnessing the Gulf Stream for power:
Link
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Hey all.... I am seeing people become a little complacent in my neck of the woods IMO. I hear them saying we not gonna get a storm for a few more years because "it hasn't been long enough since the last one." It does amaze me that folks who went through Ivan in this area could have forgotten what it was like during and after the storm.

I am a transplant from Ohio (Go Buckeye's), but I have taken all of the necessary precautions to be prepared for a hurricane if it heads my way. There are others that have been transplanted from Ohio and as much as I preach to them about being prepared, none of them have lifted a finger to do so. 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?

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We should get some better insight on those goddesses
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Quoting StormW:
Just got a pleasant surprise...Barometer Bob just phoned me...he's gonna have me on the show Thursday night.


Good for you. Will be listening.
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Thanks Mik, yea I have that site linked too, just not the one I use primarily


StormW, congrats on being a guest, I will have to listen in.
Quoting StormW:


Why not?


Don't have time to go down the list ;)
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Quoting BurnedAfterPosting:
damn the site I use for the areas off Africa isnt working now


Here's that sat link someone gave earlier Link

Probably not what you wanted though. Trying to be helpful.
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Link

Good story about a dog lost in Ike and it's return home
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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.