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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Most active so far with 4 areas of interest that needs watched over the next few days..in no order but from W to E.....1)BOC in the GOM 2)Central Caribbean at 15N 67W 3)Central Atl. 10N 42W 4)Eastern Atl. 10N 20W....Anyone of these could become our first Named Storm.....Time will tell but, its coming from 1 of these 4 areas of interest!
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wow we actually have yellow circles lol, in the EPAC though
261. IKE
NWS TPC/NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL
200 PM EDT MON JUL 27 2009

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

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

$$
FORECASTER PASCH/ROBERTS






TROPICAL WEATHER OUTLOOK...CORRECTED
NWS TPC/NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL
1100 AM PDT MON JUL 27 2009

CORRECTED FORMAT OF TEXT

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

AN AREA OF DISTURBED WEATHER ASSOCIATED WITH A TROPICAL WAVE IS
LOCATED A COUPLE HUNDRED MILES SOUTH OF MANZANILLO MEXICO.
DEVELOPMENT...IF ANY...SHOULD BE SLOW TO OCCUR AS THE SYSTEM MOVES
WESTWARD TO WEST-NORTHWESTWARD AROUND 10 TO 15 MPH. THERE IS A LOW
CHANCE...LESS THAN 30 PERCENT...OF THIS SYSTEM BECOMING A TROPICAL
CYCLONE DURING THE NEXT 48 HOURS.

A SECOND AREA OF DISTURBED WEATHER ASSOCIATED WITH A TROPICAL WAVE
IS LOCATED ABOUT 1200 MILES SOUTHWEST OF THE SOUTHERN TIP OF BAJA
CALIFORNIA. DEVELOPMENT...IF ANY...OF THIS SYSTEM IS EXPECTED TO
BE SLOW TO OCCUR AS THE SYSTEM MOVES WESTWARD TO WEST-NORTHWESTWARD
AROUND 10 TO 15 MPH. THERE IS A LOW CHANCE...LESS THAN 30
PERCENT...OF THIS SYSTEM BECOMING A TROPICAL CYCLONE DURING THE
NEXT 48 HOURS.

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

$$
FORECASTER PASCH/ROBERTS
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from the 205pm discussion.....

HOWEVER...A SURFACE TROUGH OVER THE E ATLC EXTENDS FROM A 1010
MB LOW NEAR 18N21W TO 20N19W TO THE W COAST OF AFRICA NEAR
22N16W. LOW LEVEL CONVERGENCE IS SUPPORTING SCATTERED SHOWERS WITHIN 90 NM EITHER SIDE OF THE SURFACE TROUGH. THE SURFACE LOW AND SURFACE TROUGH ARE LIKELY THE NORTHERN VORTICITY MAXIMUM ASSOCIATED WITH A TROPICAL WAVE THAT HAS LIKELY MOVED OFF THE W COAST OF AFRICA...CURRENTLY ANALYZED AS A SURFACE TROUGH EMBEDDEDWITHIN THE ITCZ FROM 15N19W TO 8N17W. THIS SURFACE TROUGH EMBEDDED IS CURRENTLY ASSOCIATED WITH A MAXIMUM IN DEEP LAYER MOISTURE BASED ON THE TOTAL PRECIPITABLE WATER PRODUCT FROM CIMSS...AND RECENTLY SATELLITE IMAGERY INDICATES CYCLONIC MOTION OF LOW LEVEL CLOUDS NEAR THIS TROUGH. THIS TROUGH WILL LIKELY BE ANALYZED AS A TROPICAL WAVE ONCE ADDITIONAL DATA SUGGESTS ITS PRESENCE AS A TROPICAL WAVE.
Big difference between 1951 and 1955 is that in 1951 only 1 storm made landfall in the US, Hurricane How in Florida in October. The few CV Storms didnt even come close to the US.

The High setup looks like the East Coast will have impacts this season, to me it is closer to 1955 in terms of the set up of steering.
Is it safe to give up on 97L now?
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Quoting moonlightcowboy:
Obama says coastal residents are clueless on disaster plans.

Disaster Accountability Project report finds local plans not available.




Obama at FEMA

"They don't have a plan, they don't have a set of contingencies that will allow them to respond in an effective way.'' The President was apparently referring to a Mason-Dixon poll of coastal residents released on May 29 which found that 55 percent did not have a family disaster plan and 83 percent have not taken steps to strengthen their homes.



Yup, that's right. No plans at all. No one listens to those at the local level. That might would help! These bureaucrats know lots about disaster preparedness and recovery! Yeah, buddy! They know about as much as Bill Gates' does about debugging his own web browser and OS, much less hurricanes! LOL.
Plus we all know it is so CHEAP to strengthen our homes here on the gulf. The Obama regime gave so much money to the banks they didn't deserve. They should have given it to the people and we may have been able to make the needed improvments at our coastlines.
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How about 1955 as a possible year to compare to this one?

Alice was part of the 55 season officially, but it is founded to have formed in 54, therefore should have been part of the 1954 season.

The 1st named storm in 1955 formed on July 31st after a quiet June and July. The set up had the east coast hit by several storms. For the season; minus Alice, there were 11 named storms, 9 were hurricanes with 6 being Major hurricanes.
The NAO looks to be slightly positive or slightly negative for August. This favors eastern seaboard hits and eastern GOM hits. If the NAO isn't strongly positive or negative then you can expect a variety of tracks but certain areas will be under the microscope.
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Quoting Dropsonde:
Based on where it is, I'd guess about 72 hours before it fully emerges. I think a past run of the GFS was developing it very briefly (note past tense). Some people aren't that interested in the EATL, but with the Bermuda High setting up as it is, and as an Ivan veteran, I think it should be watched.


100% the Bermuda and Azores High is looking very bad for August for the ConUs
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Quoting Chicklit:
Thanks, that's a great link Dropsonde.
Huge storm now over Africa. When is that expected to exit the coast?
Based on where it is, I'd guess about 72 hours before it fully emerges. I think a past run of the GFS was developing it very briefly (note past tense). Some people aren't that interested in the EATL, but with the Bermuda High setting up as it is, and as an Ivan veteran, I think it should be watched.
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Hurricane Dog, Easy, Idle and Jig?
Interesting, Adrian.
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Quoting weathernutTX:


Thats BS. You can see precip on all the satellite radar shots.
It's painfully obvious you don't know a lick about the differences between radar and satellite observations. Do a little googling and get back with us.
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COAPS predicts

8 Named Storms
4 Hurricanes
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Quoting BurnedAfterPosting:


Usually one model hints at something, but it is not impossible by any means to get something to form when no models indicate them. Also with the El Nino being reactive, it is possible this is messing up the forecast models as well.


Thanks...I'm just trying to remember a few examples but unless someone has kept very detailed records (or has a photographic memory), it's a hard thing to research retro-actively.....I remember Humberto a few seasons ago in the Gulf/Texas coast but don't recall if it was foreseen buy any of the models (it spun up in about 12 hours right near the coast)...
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Quoting Chicklit:
Thanks, that's a great link Dropsonde.
Huge storm now over Africa. When is that expected to exit the coast?


456 said it should exit the coast on Friday
I'll repost my previous post incase it was missed...

Did some analog digging last night on what this season might look as I really don't use analog years for SSTa...but more for hemispheric patterns. I really think 1951 is the BEST match atmospherically with the mean trough in the Midwest along with the robust -AO. that year really didn't get going unil late AUG.

Only 10 named, but look at all the CAT 3 +...SSTa certainly support CAT 3 in the GOM/CARIB!

Adrian
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Quoting weathermanwannabe:
Question.......We know how often the models might spin something up that never materializes, but, how often, in any typical season, has something (tropical storm or greater) spun up that was not predicted at all by the models? I'm sure it has happened in the past but I just can't remember.....Thanks.


It does not happen often...mostly tho in the GOM and Western and Central Caribbean.....where things can happen fast....It does not take much for things to develop in those areas....sometimes you can see something just before the models jump on it.
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Thanks, that's a great link Dropsonde.
Huge storm now over Africa. When is that expected to exit the coast?
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Quoting IKE:


I'm stupid...what is Glosea?


"A coupled general circulation model for global seasonal forecasting, GloSea, has been developed at the Met Office. GloSea is based on the climate version of the Met Office Unified Model, HadCM3, with a number of enhancements appropriate for seasonal forecasting purposes. These include increased vertical ocean resolution, a variable spatial horizontal grid which gives increased meridional ocean resolution in the tropics and a coastal tiling scheme. "
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Quoting weathermanwannabe:
Question.......We know how often the models might spin something up that never materializes, but, how often, in any typical season, has something (tropical storm or greater) spun up that was not predicted at all by the models? I'm sure it has happened in the past but I just can't remember.....Thanks.


Usually one model hints at something, but it is not impossible by any means to get something to form when no models indicate them. Also with the El Nino being reactive, it is possible this is messing up the forecast models as well.
For those watching the Cape Verde wave, here is a beautiful satellite that updates every hour, as opposed to every 6 hours. Useful for observing it until it gets in the view of GOES.
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they forecast 6 storms, its based off the UKMET, which is by far the most conservative of all the major forecast models.
Question.......We know how often the models might spin something up that never materializes, but, how often, in any typical season, has something (tropical storm or greater) spun up that was not predicted at all by the models? I'm sure it has happened in the past but I just can't remember.....Thanks.
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Basically tail end of wave entering Caribbean. Just like last week. That one went "poof."
We'll see about this one:
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234. IKE
Quoting Drakoen:
I've never seen the Glosea forecast for such low amount of cyclones.


I'm stupid...what is Glosea?
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233. IKE
Ditto the 12Z NOGAPS through August 4th...
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I've never seen the Glosea forecast for such low amount of cyclones.
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230. IKE
all clear on the 12Z CMC through August 2nd....
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Quoting DestinJeff:


just passing time ... everybody should know by now I am harmless. no tickets will be issued.


I know I was having a bit of fun with what you were saying, it is pretty funny.
Quoting weathernutTX:


Thats BS. You can see precip on all the satellite radar shots.


Uhhh, no, it's not BS. Some basic background reading on weather radar would probably be very helpful to you.
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Don't everyone get excited here but, there is a chance that a surface low could form in the Central Caribbean 15N 67W. The blob is starting a little spin and it is showing some signs with some Vorticity and showing signs of both Upper Divergence and Lower Convergence! NOT saying it will but, the possiblity is growing some.
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Quoting IKE:


I did laugh out loud when I read that.

BRB....I'm heading for the john....or johnster.


lol
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223. IKE
Quoting Drakoen:
Season looks like it might be a bust...


I did laugh out loud when I read that.

BRB....I'm heading for the john....or johnster.
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YET! If the "F" word is used it could be coming.......LOL

yep...Taz would ban me faster than you can say pinhole eye...so don't use that word!!!!!!!

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220. IKE
Quoting BurnedAfterPosting:


Which is fine, your problem starts when you start answering yourself


I do answer myself. I find my answers are better then most of the people I really know anyway and I'm not talking about bloggers on here.
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Thanks for posting that Patrap. (post 202) Thats what I was looking at before I put my first post up.
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Season looks like it might be a bust...
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Quoting CycloneOz:


I agree. Should something form, where would it head....back to the west?


LOoks like NNW imo
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It looks like something is trying to form in the BOC right now??
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Quoting DestinJeff:
show of hands ... how many people are actually laughing out loud when they type "lol"? just wondering. could you imagine all of us in a room together? the laughing out loud would be endless!


Most of the time I am especially if it is in regards to JFV.
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Quoting jeffs713:

That would be because of radars having limited range due to line-of-sight. Kinda hard to see a storm when its 300 miles out to sea.


Thats BS. You can see precip on all the satellite radar shots.
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Quoting IKE:


Most of the time I am. Then again, I talk to myself a lot....


Which is fine, your problem starts when you start answering yourself

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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.