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BLOG : Bill Gates wants to control the weather

Plenty of things in our lives seem pointless… some might say it’s the on-ramp traffic lights in Auckland…. others might say TV One’s weather cams that run at 6:20pm during winter showing us the current weather conditions in each main centre even though it’s pitch black and we can’t see a thing….and others…well they might think investing money in controlling hurricanes is a pretty pointless…but it’s just what Microsoft founder Bill Gates has in the pipelines.  

I struggled to find a press release about it and it seems it’s all being done very secretly – but US website USATODAY.COM recently published a story on this incredible idea.
“Five U.S. Patent and Trade Office patent applications, made public on July 9, propose slowing hurricanes by pumping cold, deep-ocean water in their paths from barges. If issued, the patents offer 18 years of legal rights to the idea for Gates and co-inventors, including climate scientist Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution of Washington” says the website.  “The patents describe a system for strategically placing turbine-equipped barges in the path of storms to chill sea surfaces with cold water pumped from the depths”.

“Given the scope of the applications, “I suspect these will have a lengthy stay in the examiner’s office. They are talking about some interesting issues here,” says patent expert Gene Quinn of”

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Caldeira declined to comment on the patents – which is why I struggled to find any press release.

The idea behind humans trying to control the weather isn’t new.   During the 2008 Olympics China actually guaranteed dry weather for the opening ceremony.  At the time of the Olympics they were spending 50 million US dollars a year as part of their “weather modification project”.  The project covers drought affected areas but also covered Beijing. The Chinese Government sent rockets into the sky to make the clouds rain… the idea being that if any rain clouds formed they would bombard them until the rain ‘dried up’ and dry clouds passed over Beijing.

America has also dabbled in “cloud seeding”.  In drought affected areas the government is seeding clouds to create rain. In airports prone to fog they are experimenting with ways to reduce the amount of fog and in states affected by large hail storms trials are being performed to reduce the size of hail.  See my blog last year about Cloud Seeding.

The US Government also tried cloud seeding with hurricanes but feared that they could actually make a hurricane worse…and that’s hardly going to win you an election if you tried to stop Hurricane Katrina and instead made it worse…and lets face it, with Bush in charge at the time the ‘worse case scenario’ was probably the ‘most likely’ one.

But what Bill Gates is proposing isn’t to touch the sky – instead, he wants to remove the fuel that creates hurricanes – the warm ocean below.

USATODAY reports that by cutting the sea surface temperature by 4.5 degrees under the eye of a hurricane it would actually kill the storm.

Says climate scientist Michael Mann of Pennsylvania State University in State College: “Needless to say, there is a whole lot of scepticism 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 behaviour.”

This year it appears El Nino is forming and this creates warmer waters around the equator near South America.    Now the possible El Nino will probably be too late arriving to affect the outcome of this years Atlantic Hurricane season but predictions are for a season with an average number of tropical storms.   So far it’s been very quiet however August is the ‘true’ beginning of the season.  Gates has got all the money to fund this and after the complete devastation of Hurricane Katrina many Americans will be keen to look at anything that could minimise the impact of a hurricane.  Of course, it would be on such a grand scale to weaken a hurricane that the cost of ‘easing’ a storm may be greater than the cost of the damage.  Mind you, you can’t easily put a dollar number on a human life…you just have to work out whether that money is best spent on easing the severity of a hurricane, or perhaps better forecasting equipment and better evacuation plans.  

You can read the full article from USATODAY here.

Have your say on Bill Gates’ idea – post a comment below.  I’m sure it’ll stir up a few emotions in some.

Blog by Head Weather Analyst Philip Duncan


Ken Ring on 31/07/2009 8:12pm

Florida is due for a big hurricane in September. Bill’s boat better get out of the way
Ken Ring

Ken Ring on 31/07/2009 8:06pm

Okay, let‚Äôs do some math. 90 million tons of water vapor are required per hour for a hurricane to form. A fully developed hurricane can release heat energy at a rate of 5 to 20×1013 watts and converts less than 10% of the heat into the mechanical energy of the wind. The heat release is equivalent to a 10-megaton nuclear bomb exploding every 20 minutes. According to the 1993 World Almanac, the entire human race used energy at a rate of 1013 watts in 1990, a rate less than 20% of the power of a hurricane. To change a Category 5 hurricane into a Category 2 hurricane you would have to add about a half ton of air for each square meter inside the eye, or a total of a bit more than half a billion (500,000,000) tons for a 20 km radius eye. Seeing there is 5,000 million million tons of air anyway, that‚Äôs one ten millionth of all the air in the world. Seeing the world‚Äôs surface area is 200m sq miles, then one ten millionth is the air covering one twentieth of the world, or all the air above Russia and India combined. It’s difficult to envision a practical way of moving that much air around. Even nuclear weapons would not even make a mark. The idea of cooling an amount of seawater the size of the Tasman under Bill’s relatively tiny boat to quell all that air is something straight out of the old Goon Show.
Ken Ring

JohnGaul on 31/07/2009 3:53am

That’s OK.
I wonder how much Bill Gates would charge for a thunderstorm if I was bored on one of those useless dull, boring weather days???


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