Be Amazing: Control the Weather

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Whether you're looking to start your own religion, swallow a sword, quit smoking, find Atlantis, buy the Moon, sink a battleship, perform your own surgeries, or become a ninja, our new book Be Amazing covers all the essential life skills! This week, we'll be excerpting a few lessons from the book.

Step 1: CONVINCE PEOPLE YOU AREN'T A NUTJOB

This will be tough, but you'll need to do it successfully if you're going to have any hope of procuring some funding. The problem is that when most people think of weather-control devices, they think of quacks like George Ambrosius Immanuel Morrison Sykes, who traveled the country promoting his weather machine in the late 1920s and early 1930s. According to Boston Globe reporter Drake Bennett, who wrote an article on weather control in 2005, Sykes's big break (and even larger crack up) came in the summer of 1930, when the innovative owners of New York's Belmont Park horse racing track decided to ensure gambling satisfaction by keeping that years' racing season rain-free. To do this, they hired Sykes. And, by all accounts, they got a pretty good deal—the would-be weather god agreed to be paid only for the days he actually succeeded in keeping the storm clouds away and, in fact, actually promised to pay the Belmont owners double for days he failed.

Surprisingly, Sykes' first week on the job went so well that his contract was extended. As irony would have it, this was when the deluge began. From this point, the weather thoroughly failed to obey Mr. Sykes's command; even when he promised rain, the sun shown. But, while his machine probably lacked scientific merit, it turned out that the concept of making rain wasn't entirely unrealistic. Sixteen years later, a General Electric research chemist managed to actually do what Sykes had faked. In 1946, Vincent J. Schaefer flew over a mountain in Massachusetts, sprinkling three pounds of crushed dry ice along the way. The result: a man-made snowfall. And, later that year, Kurt Vonnegut's meteorologist brother, Bernard, discovered that silver iodide would also prompt precipitation. By 1951, "cloud seeding" was being used to dampen 10 percent of the United States.

Step 2: RETAIN A GOOD LAWYER

Technically, what you are about to do is illegal. Hey, don't look at us. Blame the government!

Back in 1966, the U.S. military began a massive cloud-seeding experiment in Vietnam. Called Project Popeye, it was meant to soak the Ho Chi Minh trail to the point of being impassible, hopefully bogging down the North Vietnamese forces in the muck.

And in 1972, the last year of Project Popeye, a state-funded cloud-seeding operation in South Dakota got a little overzealous and ended up creating a flood that killed more than 200 people. When both these incidents hit the news wire, they created a sensation of fear and, yes, loathing. Antiweather-control sentiment eventually culminated in a United Nations treaty that forbade using weather control for military purposes or for any violent reason. America ratified the treaty back in 1979. But this shouldn't necessarily block you from pursuing your dream of benevolently tampering with nature. It certainly didn't stop U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and Representative Mark Udall from sponsoring pro-weather-control bills in recent years. Both bills would have created a Weather Modification Advisory and Research Board tied both to the White House and the Pentagon. As of today, neither has become law.

Step 3: GET DOWN TO THE SCIENCE

Cloud-seeding is definitely the most popular form of weather control—namely because we know for sure that it works. Grains of silver iodide dropped into a cloud work as a sort of irritant, causing droplets of water vapor to form around them. When the cloud gets heavy enough, it rains.

But scientists are working on new and improved methods. Ross Hoffman, a researcher with Massachusetts-based Atmospheric and Environmental Research, has used computer models to demonstrate how a deadly hurricane could be stopped or moved away from a city. Ironically, Hoffman's method actually involves making the hurricane stronger—even a slight change in wind speed can drastically alter the direction and duration of a storm. Heating up the storm would work, too. Unfortunately, in order to make either small change happen, we'd have to be able to produce, store, and transfer a massive quantity of energy—far more massive than any ever before controlled by humanity. Translation: Don't expect this any time soon. However, in a decade or two, the story may be very different. By then, its possible that we might have technology capable of harnessing energy from the sun and beaming it to Earth, where it can warm up the offending hurricanes.

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March 10, 2009 - 5:30am
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