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Go to In the News indexHarsh weather patterns shouldn't be tampered with yet

Weather can be chaotic and destructive. In 1925, a tornado swept across the Midwest, killing 689 people, injuring 1,980 and causing millions of dollars worth of damage. Why wouldn't we pursue technology to lessen the impact of this kind of horrific weather system?

If only it were that simple. In the face of this unpredictable resource, two weather modification bills are currently in the Senate. If approved, S.517 would provide $90 million for research to predict and change weather patterns. This may include attempts to create rain, suppress hail, limit hurricanes and tornadoes, and diffuse thunderstorms. A companion bill, H.R. 2995, seeks to do the same.

The question now is whether the United States is prepared to take the risk and responsibility for this controversial unproven technology.

Dr. James Durbin, professor of climatology at the University of Southern Indiana, is concerned. "Every time we've tampered with an ecosystem, we've caused some real problems," said Durbin.

Historic attempts at rerouting rivers and mining, for example, have done more harm than good in the long run.

Often failing to learn from past attempts, we "think we can control nature, but we can't," he said.

Rick Shanklin of the National Weather Service in Paducah, Ky., believes weather modification is "clearly worth researching," yet he is concerned about the impact.

Hurricanes and other systems act as a relief valve for heat and moisture. Eliminating or lessening these systems could have unintended consequences.

Shanklin is not the first to express his concern. In 1975, a citizens' group attacked government-supported "Project Stormfury," which seeded hurricanes. Group members argued that hurricanes maintained heat balance-and without being allowed a full-life cycle to do so, results could be disastrous.

Others, too, are convinced we are meddling without a clear idea of the outcome. In 1975, the Tri-State Natural Weather Association blamed Hurricane Camille on "inept science."

Llyle Barker of the National Weather Service in Lincoln, Ill., said he believed "there's still a lot we don't know about the atmosphere." He also cautioned that weather modification may leave our government and its agencies open to liability.

Although Dr. Mark Anderson of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln supports this research, he also sees the possibility that agencies will be sued. In Rapid City, S.D., for example, a legal battle ensued in 1972 after an episode of cloud seeding. And in a 2002 report on "Weather Modification Law in the U.S.A.," Massachusetts attorney Dr. Ronald Standler said that not only can potential victims apply for an injunction to stop weather modification attempts before they begin, but they can also sue if crops or property is damaged. The list of legal battles over efforts to control weather - past and present - is extensive. The possibilities for liability are enormous.

Dr. Peter Ray, professor of meteorology at Florida State University, thinks the United States need more accurate models to be able to predict and influence storm systems. However, "society's needs must be balanced," he said. Although hurricanes may be destructive, they do provide a valuable service by refueling underground layers of moist earth and flushing coastal ecosystems.

By attempting to modify weather, we are addressing the symptom, rather than the problem, said Dr. Paul Doss, chair of geology and physics at USI.

Instead of attempting to control weather systems, we should look at land use policies to lessen the impact of weather. "We put ourselves in danger," he said.

Just as agencies consider seismic activity and flooding when granting building codes, agencies should encourage our population to move away from destructive weather systems.

Many believe that tampering with nature's cycle may have an unintended impact down the road. If we do proceed, caution is in order. Until results can be predicted, computer simulation and small-scale experimentation should be our course. Perhaps $90 million could be better spent on improving forecasting technology, readying our population for destructive weather systems and encouraging population growth in less dangerous areas.

Mankind may find it advantageous to stay as safe as possible and let nature take its course; at least until we learn more.

Source: Courier Press

Committee approves bill establishing weather modification program
Weather Modification Research and Technology Transfer Authorization Act of 2005
Senate panel mulls weather modification
U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation
Agricultural alert 2006!
Owning the weather for military use
Convention on the prohibition of military or any other hostile use of environmental modification techniques

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