Saturday, October 18, 2008

Weather Control by 2000?

In honor of the news that my book Blame it on the Rain, which discusses how weather changed history, is soon to be published in Polish…

Paleo-Future, a Web site devoted to past futurism, recently posted a clip from a 1966 program 2000 A.D. The clip predicts a 3 day work week by 2000.

From there it goes on to predict weather control: "My estimate is that we will start to work seriously to modify thunderclouds to reduce lightning. I think that we'll be able to have some sort of estimate of whether we can control tornadoes and such local severe storms."

Weather control is no mere whimsy. As I noted in Blame it on the Rain, scientists (and quite a few quacks) have been working on it for years. They're just not very good at it.

In the late 19th century the Weather Bureau and the Department of Agriculture funded various tests in which explosives were unleashed in the clouds to release their rain. Money that The Chicago Times believed would have been “less ridiculously employed if it were devoted to the attempted manufacture of whistles out of pig’s tails.”

One of the first successful attempts was in 1946 when a high school dropout named Vincent Schaefer, who was employed by General Electric, flew above the Schenectady, New York clouds and dropped six pounds of dry ice into them. The result was snow.

A year later, Schaefer and Irving Langmuir, a Nobel laureate in chemistry, tried to change the course of a hurricane threatening the Florida coast. They dumped almost 200 pounds of dry ice into its eye. As they predicted, the storm changed direction. The experiment would have been a complete success were it not for the fact that the new path put the storm on a collision course with Savannah, Georgia, where it did about $5 million in damage.

As early as 1957, a report of Eisenhower’s advisory committee noted that weather control could become a “more important weapon than the atom bomb.” In 1966, the U.S. got a chance to try it out. “Project Popeye” dispensed a rain-making agent into the clouds of Vietnam and extended the monsoon season in order to increase the mud on the Ho Chi Minh trail—the main enemy supply route to South Vietnam. Whether or not these attempts were successful depends on whose report you read.

Of course, American generals were not the only ones to think of this. In Soviet Russia scientists were looking for ways to modify weather using laser technology. Recently declassified documents in England reveal that a storm that dropped 9 inches of rain in only 21 hours in August of 1952 came after a secret rainmaking experiment in which the military seeded clouds with silver iodine powder. The storm created a flood that swept through the costal town of Lynmouth destroying bridges, buildings and roads. The flood killed 34 people.

Weather control seems, for the foreseeable future, to remain the stuff of science fiction.

I Cant Stand The Rain - Tina Turner