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WeatherMatrix (Jesse Ferrell)

Can and Should Bill Gates Control Hurricanes?

By Jesse Ferrell, Meteorologist/Community Director
3/04/2010, 5:24:03 AM

UPDATE: Our official meteorologists have weighed in. One of the most important points that they brought up but I forgot is: Warm water is only PART of the equation to making a hurricane, so this method might not always help.

UPDATE: I guess it's been longer than I thought since I went to school - one of my coworkers just pointed out that recent research has proven that hurricanes do not play a significant role in transporting heat to the poles - that, even without them, the ITCZ & Hadley Cells would still do their job.

UPDATE: This article has the best illustration that I've seen yet, of what this device would look like. Although it says they could be "dropped from planes" I would think that the trickiest thing would be to get them in the path of a hurricane accurately and quickly enough.

UPDATE: Here are some good quotes from a USAToday article, including one from PSU (just down the road from AccuWeather HQ):

Says climate scientist Michael Mann of Pennsylvania State University in State College: "Needless to say, there is a whole lot of skepticism about this among tropical meteorologists. But it's not so ridiculous that I would actually dismiss it out of hand. There is certainly an important role of upper ocean mixing on tropical cyclone behavior."

"By cooling a region in the path of a hurricane (over 60 square miles), models suggest we could knock a half-a-category in wind speed out," says Philip Kithil of Atmocean in Santa Fe, an ocean-pumping firm mentioned in Gates' applications. "All the models indicate the path of the storm would be unaffected."


I put this link in J's Breaking Weather News earlier this week - Microsoft has filed a patent for dissipating hurricanes. That article was followed up by this article on in PC World today (which I tried to leave a Comment on, but it hasn't shown up yet).

I'm not an engineer so I won't debate whether this method (or a related one from some guy on our Forums) would or would not work... I will point out that the NOAA Hurricane FAQ debunked this (and all other ideas brought forth so far) years ago. They say:

"For the bag/pipe method you would have to preposition your system across all possible approaches for hurricanes. Just for the US mainland from Cape Hatteras to Brownsville would mean covering 528,000 sq mi (850,000 sq km) of ocean floor with devices. "

Instead, the question I will pose is this:

Do we want to kill hurricanes?

The gut reaction is, of course, they cause catastrophic, expensive damage and kill innocent people.

But when I went to college for meteorology, one thing we learned about hurricanes is that they have a purpose: to bring energy (heat) from the equator to the poles. With no hurricanes you end up with an extra hot equator and extra hot poles, and the Earth's climate is thrown out of balance (and you thought man-made Global Warming was bad!)

Hurricanes also bring needed moisture to drought-stricken areas and often themselves mathematically "kill" long-term droughts (although admittedly it would be better if it didn't come all at once).

And finally, it could have catastropic effects on sea-life. The Hurricane FAQ goes on to say:

"Lastly, consider the creatures of the sea. If you suddenly cool the surface layer of the ocean (and even turn it temporarily fresh), you would alter the ecology of that area and probably kill most of the sea life contained therein. A hurricane would be devastating enough on them without our adding to the mayhem. "

What do you think? Leave me a Comment below.

Comments (8): george n:

Absolutely, you go Bill! While you are at it, how about geo-engineering out all natural functions of our planet. Mechanise all agriculture, mechanise all weather. Manage the entire human population like cattle on feed lots and that should do it. Only Genetically modified foods, only cloned meat products and outlaw all natural medicines and organic native food plants. I want a stable total authoritarian one world government while your at it Mr. Bill Gates! :)

Posted by george n | July 17, 2009 5:10 PM Samuel Charloff:

"With no hurricanes you end up with an extra hot equator and extra hot poles,"

Q: did you mean extra cold poles?

FROM JESSE: Sigh, yes, corrected, thanks. :)

Posted by Samuel Charloff | July 16, 2009 8:06 PM Bryan:

Jesse, so glad you noticed this story circulating around the world today, it certainly did a bit to scare me up a little

I don't know if he can control the weather, on that issue I will resign my time to you..

But as far as whether he should? no.. I don't think he should.

To me this should be simple.. but why isn't it?

I can envision a future when countries use Bill Gates' ingenuis invention to control weather and deprive other nations of water, thus food, and control the world..

I can envision a future when this is used for wrong purposes.. for wrong reasons.

It's a hackneyed statement, but necessary in the face of this news: The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry

Posted by Bryan | July 16, 2009 7:35 PM Emiliano:

No way. Hurricanes play an importante role in heat distribution!!!

Posted by Emiliano | July 16, 2009 6:07 PM Don:

Only one thing worse than being arrogant ..... that's being rich and arrogant. His new liver must have powered up his massive ego. Although I would buy a ticket to watch this wannnbe god give it a try , maybe start with the small things, like parting the Red sea, or walking on water ......... what a hoot ! Bill Gates ... delete ....

Posted by Don | July 16, 2009 5:17 PM Amy Marrero:

At first I wanted to compare this to Ecological burnings. To reduce the impact of wildfire, we use prescribed or controlled burns. By burning off the overgrowth and making fire breaks in a controlled setting with firefighters (or experienced burn folk) on hand, we reduce the fuel that "accidental" fires have to burn. Thereby keeping them from blazing out of control.

Some wildlife relocates themselves, because obviously they know enough to run from fire. And there is minimal negative impact.

Then I thought about that. Ok, so we're going to change the temperature and consistancy of the ocean in certain spots. But the ocean is all connected. I'm not so sure you can isolate one area without impacting a much greater region.

I don't think I'd like to see this type of Playing God. The consequences could be a higher price than the hurricane itself.

Posted by Amy Marrero | July 16, 2009 12:42 PM Fran Rautiola:

Jesse Sounds like another far out wacko idea, like sometime ago there was a idea of shooting polution into the air to stop so called global warming. What about the energy required to run these pumps, where would that come from. How many thousand barges would be needed? Bill Gates is no doubt a smart man but he should stick to computers, mankind can only prepare for weather and not control it.

Posted by Fran Rautiola | July 16, 2009 11:42 AM Jordan Adams:

Well this is an interesting post, but we shouldn't be looking towards mitigating all property threatening hurricanes. Not only do you risk disturbing the natural exchange of heat and moisture around the globe, possibly causing significant long term effects, but this would pollute the oceans with possibly millions, probably billions, of mechanical devices. And lets not forget the amount of money that would be needed for r&d, innovations, production, upkeep, and repair. then in the end would it even work? Large scale weather systems are much more resilient that we like to think. The amount of cooling that would be needed to cover a few hundred square miles of ocean by say, just 5 degrees F, even only the top meter of water, would be tremendous. And pumping up cool water from the ocean bottom would most likely cause a massive turnover, dirty the water, and probably kill most life. Bill gates: i'm sorry but you cannot control hurricanes. Stick to computers.

Posted by Jordan Adams | July 16, 2009 11:37 AM
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WeatherMatrix (Jesse Ferrell)