Instead of spending millions of dollars on hurricane prediction technology, why not get to the heart of the matter by preventing the formation of deadly hurricanes in the first place? Is preventing storms, like possible Hurricane or Tropical Storm Lee, feasible? Or is it just the stuff of science fiction?
Hurricanes get their energy from warm water. Computer models have proven that a storm’s power is directly related to how warm the water beneath it is. Cooling the water by 4.5 degrees can be enough to kill off the hurricane all together.
Bill Gates and his team of co-inventors was contemplating doing just that with 5 of his patents, which were made public from the U.S. Patent and Trade Office 2 years ago. The patents describe pumps, placed on barges, that would pump cool water to the surface. Theoretically, such as system can work if deployed on a massive scale, with the patents acknowledging the fact that a massive amount of barges would have to pump water in order to affect the strength of a hurricane.
Gates is far from the only one to try to patent a system to weaken hurricanes. A patent filed by “LEONOV, A.I. and GAGOV, A” from the University of Akron attempts to weaken the hurricane by having supersonic jets fly around the hurricane eye and create supersonic shockwaves that would raise air pressure and disrupt the rotation of the hurricane, decreasing its intensity.
Prof Daniel Rosenfeld of Hebrew University, an Israeli scientist has the idea of lessening hurricane winds by seeding the hurricane with smoke, which would be carried by 10 cargo aircraft. According to Rosenfeld, simulated real world conditions would allow him to decrease hurricane force winds by 25%.
Can any of these ideas be put in practice? As of now, none of the aforementioned ideas have been put to the test. Only one theory, injecting hurricanes with silver iodide crystals to reduce wind speed, has been taken seriously by the US government. Project Stormfury, a hurricane modification project by the US government, which lasted between 1962 and 1983, was cut short because no one could prove the effectiveness of the silver iodide. Just because something may work in a computer simulation or on a piece of paper, doesn’t mean the same effect will be achieved in the real world, in which a hurricane’s full, convoluted, nature is in play. However, just because past attempts at hurricane modification have been fruitless, doesn’t mean that future theories can’t work.
Even if one of the theories is proven to work, it would be hard to determine which hurricanes or tropical storms to seed, because they provide valuable rainfall. A hurricane, without any artificial modification, may downgrade itself before hitting land. Altering it in some way would disturb the natural ecological balance. Right now, the tropical depression in the Gulf of Mexico, theoretically, could turn into Tropical Storm Lee or even Hurricane Lee. It could also just give the Gulf some rain. Playing with its development, assuming a working modification system was in plan, could prove to be an enormous waste of resources.