On October 13, 1947, a borderline Category 2 hurricane positioned off of the southeastern coast of the United States was “seeded” with dry ice (frozen carbon dioxide) in an attempt to weaken the storm. This was part of an effort known as “Project Cirrus”. Shortly thereafter, the tropical system made an abrupt left turn and slammed into the Georgia coast at Savannah.
While only one person died, it caused great fear of causation. The project was abruptly abandoned (it was later determined that the interaction of the storm with an upper trough was responsible, but the political damage had been done).
Project “Stormfury” was launched in the 1960s by NOAA to evaluate the potential benefit of cloud seeding in hurricanes. To avoid any disasters, strict guidelines required candidate systems to be well offshore and therefore not prone to the 1947 possibility. The project continued into the 1980’s. The data was inconclusive after all of the research, and was abandoned due to budget cutbacks. So up to this point in time the data suggests there is no way to control hurricane movement or strength with cloud seeding.
A private company called Dyn-O-Mat makes a polymer-based gel that consumes fifteen hundred times its weight in water. It is used to help make diapers absorbent. But Peter Cordani, the CEO, wants to use it to weaken hurricanes as well. He says:
“If you take a pie-shaped piece out of the eye of a hurricane, it causes the winds around the eye to work against themselves. If you can slow a hurricane by 12 to 15 MPH, you can take it down one category. We’re talking about using $8 million worth of product to slow a hurricane that could cause billions in damage.”
On July 19, 2001, a test of Cordani’s gel seemed to confirm the possibility. A plane dispersed $40,000 of Dyn-O-Gel granules into a developing thunderstorm off of the Florida coast. Kevin Sullivan, Palm Beach airport’s control-tower supervisor, told the Associated Press at the time:
“The people in the tower visually confirmed that there was a tall buildup, and the next moment, it was gone.” A Miami TV station’s (Channel 5) weather radar also confirmed the storm’s dissipation.
However, this doesn’t mean our hurricane problem is solved. There’s just too much energy to disperse with any present-day technology:
“For example, when Hurricane Andrew struck South Florida in 1992, the eye and eye- wall devastated a swath 20 miles wide. The heat energy released around the eye was 5,000 times the combined heat and electrical power generation of the Turkey Point nuclear power plant over which the eye passed. The kinetic energy of the wind at any instant was equivalent to that released by a nuclear warhead.” – Dr. Christopher Landsea, Ph. D., science and operations officer at the National Hurricane Center in Miami
Dr. Jay Lehr, Ph. D., a hydrologist, chimes in with similar thoughts about using water-absorbing materials to weaken a hurricane: “my personal belief is that it would have no significant impact on the strength of a hurricanehaving studied weather for over 50 years, I am aware that man’s ability to significantly alter weather simply does not exist.”
Meanwhile, Cordani’s company makes super-absorbent polymers useful for cleaning up oil spills and such, while still hoping that his product will be given the chance at a large-scale test opportunity on hurricanes.
For now at least, the science shows we’re a lot closer to the “shout” than we are the “substance” category in any real type of hurricane control. When and if we can eventually control these monsters, steering them out to sea will be academic. We won’t have to choose between cities and the countryside.