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How Weather Modification Works

RELEASED February 9, 2013
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Episode Summary
It began with old-timey guys dropping dry ice on clouds. Since then weather modification was used to keep the 2008 opening ceremonies dry and flood the Ho Chi Minh Trail, but does it work? Learn about weather control plans, diabolical or otherwise.

Male Speaker:    Brought to you by Toyota.  Let’s go places.

Female Speaker:    Welcome to Stuff You Should Know from howstuffworks.com.

Josh Clark:    Hey, and welcome to the podcast.  I’m Josh Clark, this is Charles W. “Chuck” Bryant and it’s Stuff You Should know.

Chuck Bryant:    Rainy edition.

Josh Clark:    Is it rainy?

Chuck Bryant:    How appropriate that we’re doing this one today because it has been raining in Atlanta for 40 days and 40 nights it seems like.

Josh Clark:    It really has been.  I’ve been breaking out the duck boots, man.  I almost never wear those because it’s not that rainy.

Chuck Bryant:    Well, yeah.  Sure it is.

Josh Clark:    Well, Dude, we’re in the midst of like a ten-year drought, you know.

Chuck Bryant:    Oh, true.

Josh Clark:    We’re still in drought level conditions.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.  And then tomorrow it says maybe even snow in the northern suburbs.

Josh Clark:    I know.  That would be nice if it snowed down here.

Chuck Bryant:    Another 100% chance of rain or snow.

Josh Clark:    You know despite all this rain we still are in a drought condition –

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.

Josh Clark:    – and we have been for a while.  You remember back in 2007 –

Chuck Bryant:    Oh, yeah.

Josh Clark:    – when Sonny Perdue was the governor, they held an official state prayer for rain, where Governor Perdue led a prayer for rain saying like God, please rain.

Chuck Bryant:    Yes.

Josh Clark:    For the love of God.  For the love of you.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.

Josh Clark:    Please make it rain.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah, and it rained – I think a lot of that had to do with the fact that he held that prayer on the night before it was calling for a hundred percent chance of rain the next day.

Josh Clark:    Is that right?  I don’t remember it raining the next day.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah, it rained the next day and people said oh, my goodness, God made it rain.

Josh Clark:    Sonny Perdue is a magic man.

Chuck Bryant:    Of course he did.

Josh Clark:    Yeah.

Chuck Bryant:    Mother Nature at work.

Josh Clark:     So you got people praying for rain, you have the rain dance –

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.

Josh Clark:    – which is really hard to find any information on these days, but apparently the Pueblo had a pretty cool rain dance.  They lived in the Southwest where it was very dry so they knew what they were doing.

Chuck Bryant:    Sure.

Josh Clark:    And then there’s something that I discovered today called the Paparuda, which is from Romania and basically a girl from a village would run around wearing like a skirt made of like vines and branches.  And she would go dancing through the streets of the village and then go house to house and then when she was greeted at the door of each house people would pour water on her.  And she would just continue dancing and people would be playing music and eventually it would hopefully rain.

Chuck Bryant:    Eventually that would involve into the wet tee shirt contest at Panama City Beach.

Josh Clark:    I guess.  That’s probably where it came from, yeah.

Chuck Bryant:    Wow.  Who knew?

Josh Clark:    Yeah.  Which of course you referenced the fact that Panama City Beach was settled by Romanian settlers.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.  So yeah, for a change we’re talking about the weather and it’s not some little boring chitchat.  You know what I’m saying?

Josh Clark:    You don’t think this was boring chitchat?

Chuck Bryant:    No.  It’s legit because, you know usually, I mean you’re like oh, you know it’s raining here.  It’s just a very boring way to say I have not much to say.

Josh Clark:    Oh, gotcha.

Chuck Bryant:    You know what I’m saying?

Josh Clark:    I see what you mean.  Yes.

Chuck Bryant:    But this is actually topical.

Josh Clark:    Yeah, it is.  We’re saying that because we’re talking about weather modification.  You could say that rain dance was an early attempt at it.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.

Josh Clark:    And then in the early 20th Century people started to try to apply science to it and there were some pretty cool attempts early on by very smart guys from like Harvard and MIT and that Dutch guy to basically either make it rain, to make it stop raining or to deter some other kind of weather phenomenon.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.  Like fog or hurricanes or tornadoes.

Josh Clark:    Yeah.

Chuck Bryant:    Actually those came along a little later, but fog I think you had down in 1938 they were trying to dissipate fog.

Josh Clark:    Yeah.  I guy named Professor Henry G. Houghton of MIT.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.  I think my favorite is the Harvard guy, Professor Emory Leon Chaffee.

Josh Clark:    Right.

Chuck Bryant:    He sounds like he should be from the University of the South.

Josh Clark:    Yeah, well he was flying around in a plane in 1924 with charged sand.

Chuck Bryant:    Whatever the heck that is.

Josh Clark:    Well I think it’s sand that you apply a electrical current to.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah, I think so.

Josh Clark:    You do something to its ions, right?

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.

Josh Clark:    And he was dumping it into the clouds and actually he was definitely onto something.  I don’t know where he figured that out, but he was I guess you could say the grandfather of cloud seeding then.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.  Grandpa Chaffee.

Josh Clark:    Right.

Chuck Bryant:    And things were kind of humming along a little bit until Kurt Vonnegut’s older brother, Bernie – Bernard – Dr. Bernard, really took it by the horns and made some headway –

Josh Clark:    Yeah.

Chuck Bryant:    – as far as cloud seeding and actually controlling the weather in the mid-1940s.

Josh Clark:    Right.  I guess he was researching that for GE –

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.

Josh Clark:    – and he figured out that silver iodide has virtually the same distance between points in its crystal lattice structure –

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.

Josh Clark:    – as ice.  So he said you know what, I’ll bet this would be a really good stand-in for ice formation.  So if you put it in the clouds maybe it would make ice form.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.  And he even figured out how to generate it, right?

Josh Clark:    Yeah.  He’s like no, this is not theoretical, I’m a Vonnegut –

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.

Josh Clark:    – for the extra mile.

Chuck Bryant:    You don’t know my little brother yet, but you’re gonna be knocked out by his books.

Josh Clark:    You’re gonna love him.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.

Josh Clark:    People are gonna try to ban tee shirts with his quotes on it during ban books weeks.  The irony’s gonna be lousy.

Chuck Bryant:    That’s right.  So –

Josh Clark:    So, what’s the –

Chuck Bryant:    – go ahead.

Josh Clark:    – what’s the process?

Chuck Bryant:    Well the process of creating it, he dissolves a mixture of – are we gonna call it AGI?

Josh Clark:    Yeah.

Chuck Bryant:    Of AGI and acetone, which is also iodide, is that right?  Oh, another iodide with acetone.

Josh Clark:    Yeah.  The acetone is flammable.

Chuck Bryant:    You can spray that through a nozzle, make the tiny little droplets and then burn those droplets up.  And then that really makes it more efficient.  One gram of AGI can then produce 100 quadrillion nuclei for these ice crystals.

Josh Clark:    Yeah.  So you take that stuff, you put it up in the clouds – it goes up.

Chuck Bryant:    That’s right.

Josh Clark:    And it actually, according to Vonnegut’s theories has a number of effects.  And here’s how it works.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah, this is where I get a little confused.

Josh Clark:    Okay.

Chuck Bryant:    This is what – the segments we like to call Josh Teaches Chuck in addition to the world.

Josh Clark:    Okay.  You ready?

Chuck Bryant:    Uh-huh.

Josh Clark:    So you think that zero degrees Celsius or 32 degrees Fahrenheit is where ice freezes.

Chuck Bryant:    It is.  That’s what they always say.

Josh Clark:    This is actually the melting point of ice.

Chuck Bryant:    Oh.  I knew that part.

Josh Clark:    So ice freeze between zero and negative 39 degrees Celsius –

Chuck Bryant:    Right.

Josh Clark:    – and it depends on the number of impurities, which we’ll call nuclei.

Chuck Bryant:    Okay.

Josh Clark:    And when we’re talking nuclei, when we’re talking about cloud seeding, we’re talking about any particle that can attract water to become a raindrop, that can attract water vapor and turn it into ice through sublimation –

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.

Josh Clark:    – and become snow or sleet or anything like that.  So a nuclei is anything that you introduce into a cloud that becomes the center of this precipitation, right?

Chuck Bryant:    Okay.  See, that already makes more sense.

Josh Clark:    Okay.  So there’s two types of clouds as far as Vonnegut’s concerned, or his technique is concerned.  There is a super cool cloud, which has water that is less than zero degrees Celsius present.

Chuck Bryant:    Yes.  And that’s the ideal cloud for cloud seeding, correct?

Josh Clark:    For one type of cloud seeding, for using silver iodide.

Chuck Bryant:    Okay.

Josh Clark:    Because what you’re trying to do there is create ice.

Chuck Bryant:    Right.

Josh Clark:    And if you’re using silver iodide, which has a similar structure to ice crystals you’re gonna use that in the super cold one because if you use it in the other type, the warm cloud –

Chuck Bryant:    Right.

Josh Clark:    – it’s not gonna do anything because it’s not gonna form ice no matter what.  The temperature’s too high.

Chuck Bryant:    But you can still see the warm cloud, correct?

Josh Clark:    You can.  So you use the silver iodide – Vonnegut’s method is still in use today where you’re burning silver iodide mixed in acetone to create quadrillions of nuclei that float up into the cloud –

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.

Josh Clark:    – create an updraft because – check this out, this is even more beautiful.  When the silver iodide nuclei enter the cloud they start to attract the water vapor –

Chuck Bryant:    Right.

Josh Clark:    – and as the water vapor converts from vapor with – not turning back into liquid because it’s sublimation –

Chuck Bryant:    That’s right.

Josh Clark:    Converts from liquid – or vapor into ice, it creates heat energy as a result.  Or it doesn’t create it, it – heat energy –

Chuck Bryant:    Okay.  It’s a by-product?

Josh Clark:    – it comes about.

Chuck Bryant:    Okay.  It’s magic.

Josh Clark:    Right.  And as that happens that creates a convective current going up in the cloud, which creates a swirl – an updraft –

Chuck Bryant:    Okay.

Josh Clark:    – which makes the cloud bigger, which means that the stuff – the particles that happened at the top have longer to fall through to create more ice – accumulate more ice and have a better chance of becoming snow.  So that’s the super cool cloud using silver iodide.

Chuck Bryant:    So the cloud is literally pregnant with precipitation.

Josh Clark:    Yeah, that not only creates snow and ice, but actually makes the cloud bigger to increase the likelihood that it will produce snow and ice –

Chuck Bryant:    Wow.

Josh Clark:    – just by introducing silver iodide.

Chuck Bryant:    That’s pretty [inaudible].

[Crosstalk]

Josh Clark:    Vonnegut was a genius.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.

Josh Clark:    The other way is to use a warm cloud, which is a cloud where the water temperature, the air temperature is over zero degrees Celsius.

Chuck Bryant:    That’s right.

Josh Clark:    And then that is pretty simple.  You just use table salt.

Chuck Bryant:    Really?

Josh Clark:    Or sand.

Chuck Bryant:    Charged sand?

Josh Clark:    Charged or otherwise.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.  Okay.

Josh Clark:    But you want to dump that into the top of the cloud.

Chuck Bryant:    Right.  And it requires dumping a lot of it too.

Josh Clark:    Right.

Chuck Bryant:    Right.  Is that one of the problems with it, or –?

Josh Clark:    Yeah.  I mean it just – there’s more to it.  If you’re using Vonnegut’s method you can use a seeding station on the ground.

Chuck Bryant:    Right.

Josh Clark:    If you’re using static clouds and where you’re flying overhead and dropping stuff into the clouds –

Chuck Bryant:    Right.

Josh Clark:    – you have to have plane.

Chuck Bryant:    Oh, yeah.

Josh Clark:    You have to have a lot more of it.  But what you’re using is called a hydroscopic solution, which attracts water to create raindrops, which fall through the cloud –

Chuck Bryant:    Wow.

Josh Clark:    – becoming bigger and bigger on the way.  And then bam – you have rain.  You just seeded a cloud.

Chuck Bryant:    That’s amazing.  So GE did have a plane in 1946, or at least the article says they rented an airplane.

Josh Clark:    Right.

Chuck Bryant:    I guess they didn’t have their own.  And they said we should try this out and they released dry ice into these clouds for four days in November, December of ’46.  And on the last day they received the heaviest snowfall of that winter in the area of New York – Schenectady, New York.  But there’s been a lot of – well, we’ll get to whether or not this stuff works at the very end.

Josh Clark:    Right.

Chuck Bryant:    But it seems like every time it happens people are saying, uh, I think we might have caused that and other people think yeah, but did we really.

Josh Clark:    Right.  Were you guys just cloud seeding enough so that over a enough days that it was bound to rain anyway.

Chuck Bryant:    Like the Governor of Georgia praying for rain the night before it’s supposed to rain.

Josh Clark:    Exactly.  So GE was convinced enough that this was working that it was like we can’t do this anymore.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.

Josh Clark:    And the Army said hey, we have a bunch of money, why don’t you let us in on this.  And we have a bunch of money and low scruples because we’re about to start testing acid on people whether they like it or not.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.

Josh Clark:    So cloud seeding’s like nothing to us.  And GE said okay, as long as you guys are totally liable, sure we’ll do it with you.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.  So they partnered up for Project Ceres –

Josh Clark:    Right.

Chuck Bryant:    – and in 1947 – in October of ’47, they dumped 180 pounds of dry ice into a hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean and possibly changed the direction of that hurricane to make landfall right here in Georgia and ended up killing up several people.

Josh Clark:    Yeah.

Chuck Bryant:    So that was sort of an oops, although again they’re like did we really cause that.

Josh Clark:    Well, the guy who was Bernard Vonnegut’s boss, Irving Langmuir, he was a Nobel winning chemist, he was totally convinced.  According to him there’s a 99% probability that they had caused this hurricane to change direction.

Chuck Bryant:    I think he talked a lot about himself, didn’t he?

Josh Clark:    He did.  He did.

Chuck Bryant:    He was always like no, that was us.

Josh Clark:    And he would publish papers like that and the government would step in and be like this paper doesn’t exist anymore.  Do you want us to like grease you?

Chuck Bryant:    Right.  Yeah.

Josh Clark:    Are you trying to push our buttons?  But there was another scientist who pointed out that a hurricane followed the exact same path, caused about the same amount of damage –

Chuck Bryant:    Right.

Josh Clark:    – in 1906.  So was it the dry ice?  Was it not?  Who knows?

Chuck Bryant:    So he just compared it to an older hurricane and said this could have happened –

Josh Clark:    Yeah.

Chuck Bryant:    – naturally?

Josh Clark:    Right.

Chuck Bryant:    They did the same thing in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1948 and July 1949, and apparently it rained all over the State of New Mexico and as far away as Kansas, causing – oh, actually that was later on in 1951.  But the same deal, from New Mexico they think they made it rain in Kansas to the point where like the great floods of Kansas and adjacent states, they thought man, could it have traveled that far.  Who knows?

Josh Clark:    Well that was another Langmuir was convinced about, that like they had impregnated –

Chuck Bryant:    He thought he did that too?

Josh Clark:    – clouds that traveled a thousand kilometers away, yeah.  And enough that he was like we have to stop doing this and Bernard Vonnegut testified to congress like nobody should be doing this except maybe a federal government.

Chuck Bryant:    Right.  But then other expert meteorologists came out and said you know what, this whole thing in Kansas, if there was any effect at all it might have been just slightly enhanced –

Josh Clark:    Right.

Chuck Bryant:    – so it’s really not all your fault.

Josh Clark:    So the U.S. Government is very much interested in this, they’re very much entrenched in this even as they’re not sure whether or not it’s working.

Chuck Bryant:    Right.

Josh Clark:    Where the scientific community is at odds over whether or not it was working, but the U.S. Government was convinced enough that they were basically weaponizing the weather.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.  Sure.

Josh Clark:    They’re doing all this to figure out how to screw with other country’s troops, economies, the whole shebang.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.

Josh Clark:    And as the U.S. were carrying out tests, so were the Brits, right?

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah, the Royal Air Force of course, if we had our Project Ceres, they had Operation Cumulus.  Very clever to think of all these cloud names.  And this was going on recently.  In 2001 the BBC investigated these rumors and apparently – or actually were they investigating the old rumors?

Josh Clark:    Yeah.

Chuck Bryant:    Oh, okay.  Well, I guess that makes more sense.  I thought they did it recently too though.  No?

Josh Clark:    I don't know.

Chuck Bryant:    [Inaudible].

[Crosstalk]

Josh Clark:    The Brits, I don't know.

Chuck Bryant:    All right.  So in 1952, the Royal Air Force did fly above the cloud line, dropped a bunch of this stuff and 30 minutes later it started to rain and it rained and rained and rained and by the end of the month North Devon and North of England was – basically got 250 times the amount of rain they ever get.

Josh Clark:    Which is a pretty spectacularly convincing –

Chuck Bryant:    250 times.

Josh Clark:    Yeah.

Chuck Bryant:    That’s like flood time.

Josh Clark:    There was actually a huge flood too in a village –

Chuck Bryant:    Lynmouth.

Josh Clark:    – Lynmouth, where basically 90 million tons of water converged on the village at once –

Chuck Bryant:    Unbelievable.

Josh Clark:    – on the day that they started seeding when it started raining.  And 35 people lost their lives.  They were carried out to sea, they were crushed by boulders, entire houses were taken out by the water.

Chuck Bryant:    But of course they said this wasn’t us.

Josh Clark:    Right.  And the Royal Air Force pretended it never happened.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.  So who knows?  We did our own little experiments here in the U.S. as far weaponization goes in Vietnam, we tried to extend the Monsoon season on the Ho Chi Minh Trail and apparently it worked by like 30 to 45 days, supposedly we extended Monsoon season that year in 1971.

Josh Clark:    At a cost of like $21 million and over the course of 2,600 missions.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.  And they said it’s like – they look at it now as a semi-successful mission.  Whatever that means.

Josh Clark:    It was – it was a good enough –

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.

Josh Clark:    They’re like, eh, things are slippery.  And that was actually called Operation Popeye.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.  No cloud names.

Josh Clark:    And the whole reason we have an awareness of Operation Popeye is because a reporter named Jack Anderson, he got his hands on a secret memo from the Joint Chiefs of Staff to President Johnson that made reference to weather modification techniques in Laos.  And he started digging around and found out that the government had done that.  And when this article came out it was at a really good time because the U.S. Government was – or congress was not in the mood to weaponize weather.

Chuck Bryant:    Right.

Josh Clark:    And so they kind of took this article, they took the publicity from it, they took a senate committee’s recommendation that like this is way too big for us to be messing with, and went and had a summit with the Soviets about banning weather modification.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah, they said it was a Laosy idea.

Josh Clark:    Did you practice that?

Chuck Bryant:    Well, I thought too much time had gone by and I was like you know what, I’m gonna say it anyway.

Josh Clark:    It was good timing.

Chuck Bryant:    It doesn’t matter.  When you throw the pun down it’s always bad.

Josh Clark:    It was good timing.

Chuck Bryant:    So it was a Laosy idea.  And they did, they got together with the Soviets and they said the big deal breaker I guess between them making a deal right then was they couldn’t decide between the distinctions of technical versus strategic.  They thought hey if it’s technical that’s cool because we’re just trying to benefit from the weather and make stuff harder on you to get around.

Josh Clark:    Right.

Chuck Bryant:    Strategic uses would like try and like flood a major city.

Josh Clark:    Ruin crops.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.  Ruin crops, ruin your economy.

Josh Clark:    Destroy the economy.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.

Josh Clark:    Yeah.  And so the summit dissolved, but the fact that they were even talking about the strategic ones, suggests that the U.S. and the Soviets both thought that –

Chuck Bryant:    It was possible.

Josh Clark:    – one or both were on the verge –

Chuck Bryant:    Sure.

Josh Clark:    – of being able to do weather modification at that level.  So the talks fell apart, but the UN basically stepped in and said hey, we’ll take over from here.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.

Josh Clark:    And they created ENMOD, which is the Environmental Modification Convention, which basically bans weaponizing weather.  And the U.S. and the Soviets ratified it.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.

Josh Clark:    It came into effect in 1978.  So you can’t weaponize weather, but you can still do like weather modification as long as it’s not what’s called geophysical warfare.

Chuck Bryant:    Right.

Josh Clark:    Like you’re trying to dissipate a storm or change the course of a hurricane for good.

Chuck Bryant:    For good and not evil.

Josh Clark:    That kind of stuff.  Yeah.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.  For instance China, they’ve been at this for a long time, since the late 1950s, and they have a program that employs between 30 and 35,000 people called the Chinese Academy of Meteorological Sciences –

Josh Clark:    Yeah.

Chuck Bryant:    – and that is – they have a department, the Weather Modification Department.

Josh Clark:    Yeah.

Chuck Bryant:    And they use that – and you probably remember in the news even seeing this at the Beijing Olympics, they busted clouds to try and prevent rain from happening.

Josh Clark:    Right.

Chuck Bryant:    Because they didn’t want to rain out their opening ceremony and their games.

Josh Clark:    Yeah.  So any cloud that they saw they would shoot with rocket-propelled grenades filled with silver iodide –

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.

Josh Clark:    – or anti-aircraft artillery filled with silver iodide.  They were just shooting clouds and there was like 30,000 people, a lot of them are farmers who are armed with government issue rocket launchers.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.  Because they’re on the right place.

Josh Clark:    Yeah – to shoot at clouds.

Chuck Bryant:    Get that cloud.

Josh Clark:    Yeah – 30,000 people.

Chuck Bryant:    I just did that like a Southern redneck.  That was weird.  Get that cloud, man.  That wasn’t very Chinese.

Josh Clark:    That’s what they sound like in China.

Chuck Bryant:    Jerry just laughed at that one.  So then hail is the next thing that we’ve tried to conquer.  1971, the National Hail Research Experiment was started and basically to suppress hail along what’s known as Hail Alley in Colorado, some state called Kansas – Northwest Kansas, Southeast Wyoming and Northwest Nebraska.

Josh Clark:    Right.

Chuck Bryant:    And it was scheduled the last five years, but it did not.  I think it was shut down in 1973.  Is that right?

Josh Clark:    Yeah.  Two years ahead of time and not necessarily through any fault of its own.  The ‘70s turned out to be like the driest decade ever in Hail Alley.

Chuck Bryant:    That’s right.  There was just no hail.

Josh Clark:    But their whole goal was to seed clouds to basically hurry up the process of them precipitating –

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.

Josh Clark:    – so that it wouldn’t have a chance to become hail.  To keep them warm clouds too, and just to – if it is going to hail they would be smaller pieces of hail and it would just accelerate the process.

Chuck Bryant:    Right.

Josh Clark:    But there was some funny things that came out of it.  Like we learned that farmers don’t like cloud seeding.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.  They tried it in Maryland and Virginia and there were farmers like shooting at the aircraft.

Josh Clark:    And then in the San Luis Valley there were – somebody blew up with dynamite a radar truck for a private weather modification company – all in the ‘70s.  So the ‘70s – weather mod was not very popular.  And in some states now because of farmers’ concerns weather modification is banned.

Chuck Bryant:    Oh really?

Josh Clark:    Yeah.  Because –

Chuck Bryant:    On a state level?

Josh Clark:    Yeah.  People are afraid that you’re gonna take the cloud that was destined for their field and use it over your field.  That was my cloud.

Chuck Bryant:    Well that’s – we might as well talk about it then.  That’s a big issue as far as our next topic, thwarting hurricanes – seems like a great idea.

Josh Clark:    Yeah.

Chuck Bryant:    But one leading scientist – what’s his name?  Moshe Alamaro –

Josh Clark:    He’s from MIT.

Chuck Bryant:    He says, you know only a handful of hurricanes ever develop out of like a hundred tropical storms let’s say, and very few of those hurricanes cause landfall that do like lots of damage.

Josh Clark:    Right.

Chuck Bryant:    So this rainfall is vital to South America, and what are we gonna start just trying to thwart every tropical storm we see?

Josh Clark:    Yeah.

Chuck Bryant:    Like we’re playing God here a little too much.  This stuff happens for a reason.

Josh Clark:    Right.  Exactly.

Chuck Bryant:    Despite the fact that hurricanes can be very dangerous and costly, take lives – I get the feeling he’s like, you know we might just want to live with that every couple of years.

Josh Clark:    Rather than try to mess with the thermodynamics of an ocean current.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.  Exactly.

Josh Clark:    And that’s kind of what some of the ideas for dissipating or moving hurricanes – a couple ideas are dropping hydrogen bombs on a hurricane to dissipate it.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.

Josh Clark:    Which, I don’t know what effect that would have.

Chuck Bryant:    I don’t either.

Josh Clark:    But Bill Gates is in on a patent for dissipating hurricanes, which apparently uses fleets of vehicles to pump cold water from lower depths of the ocean –

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.

Josh Clark:    – to the surface to mix with the warm surface temperatures – or comparatively warmer surface temperatures, so that the convective currents that those warm surface temperatures create in hurricanes –

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.

Josh Clark:    – that make them more and more powerful are dissipated so the hurricane’s force is reduced.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.  Because hurricanes draw their strength from that heat and if you can cool it down, the idea is that you might dissipate it.

Josh Clark:    Again, messing with thermodynamics – is that a good thing?

Chuck Bryant:    Playing God.

Josh Clark:    And then there’s one that’s really routine.  You’ve probably looked right past it at your local airport, which is fog dissipation.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.  They do this regularly with below freezing temperature fog.

Josh Clark:    Right.

Chuck Bryant:    It’s not too hard; they can do it from the ground.

Josh Clark:    Yeah.

Chuck Bryant:    But aren’t they trying to do it with above temperature as well?

Josh Clark:    Yeah, they tried cloud seeding to dissipate it as well, but they also will heat the landing areas –

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.

Josh Clark:    – which dissipates fog.  But it is weather modification.  And then they’ll also inject propane gas, which apparently dissipates below-freezing fog as well at airports.

Chuck Bryant:    Have you ever been on a plane that had to be de-iced before takeoff?

Josh Clark:    Yeah.

Chuck Bryant:    That happened to me for the first time this Christmas in Akron.

Josh Clark:    It takes a really long time.

Chuck Bryant:    It took a long time and I was right there by the window by the wing and I was – I watched the whole thing, it was fascinating, but also a little bit terrifying.  I was just like – did you get it all?

Josh Clark:    Yeah.  Exactly.  Did you miss a spot?

Chuck Bryant:    I asked did you see that over there.

Josh Clark:    Maybe we should go over it again.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.  I wish I knew exactly what they were doing.  I’ll have to look into that because I always like to know that stuff.

Josh Clark:    Well I’m sure we could just go ahead and suggest it ourselves.  We’ll do a podcast –

Chuck Bryant:    Do a podcast?

Josh Clark:    – on plane de-icing.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.  We should actually.

Josh Clark:    Really?

Chuck Bryant:    They were spraying the wings, I know that.

Josh Clark:    Yeah.

Chuck Bryant:    But I don’t think it was just like hot water.

Josh Clark:    No, it’s not.  It’s some sort of crazy solution.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah, that’s what I figured.

Josh Clark:    Crazy cuckoo solution.

Chuck Bryant:    De-icing.

Josh Clark:    Yeah.

Chuck Bryant:    So does this stuff work, Josh?

Josh Clark:    That is a great question, Chuckers.  No one really knows.  There’s actually – you know we said Irving Langmuir and Bernard Vonnegut were definite true believers –

Chuck Bryant:    Right.

Josh Clark:    – but then there’s plenty of other people who are like you don’t know that that happened, it could have just been coincidence.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.

Josh Clark:    And there’s actually a split among American scientific groups over whether it has any effect or not.

Chuck Bryant:    Here’s what I think.

Josh Clark:    Okay.

Chuck Bryant:    Here’s my amateur opinion.  I think it possibly works, but it’s such a haphazard result and so not easily – so difficult to control –

Josh Clark:    Yeah.

Chuck Bryant:    – that does that really work?  Like you may have an effect, but unless you can really pinpoint control it, I don’t know if you can say that works.

Josh Clark:    And part of the problem is carrying out rigorous scientific experiments, right?

Chuck Bryant:    Sure.

Josh Clark:    Like if you – you can’t control where the wind is going to take this silver iodide, so if you’re trying to impregnate one cloud and keep another as a control cloud, how do you know that the control cloud’s not infected with silver iodide –

Chuck Bryant:    Right.

Josh Clark:    – and that it’s going to rain as well as a result of your experiment?

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.

Josh Clark:    So it’s a very tough thing to experiment on.

Chuck Bryant:    Well, and didn’t they find out when they tried to do the ice crystals in the hurricane, didn’t they find out that there are already ice crystals there?

Josh Clark:    Yeah, that’s what –

Chuck Bryant:    So it didn’t like have much of an effect?

Josh Clark:    Right.  NOAH, National Oceanic –

Chuck Bryant:    AA?

Josh Clark:    – Atmospheric Administration –

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.

Josh Clark:    They carried something out which was pretty cool – it’s called Project Storm Fury for like 30 years trying to seed hurricanes and, yeah, they found that oh, there’s ice there already, this isn’t going to have an effect.

Chuck Bryant:    Well they learn more about hurricanes though that way at least.

Josh Clark:    They sure did –

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.

Josh Clark:    – by being crazy and flying into them.  And then so the National Academy of Scientists said 30 years of study has produced no solid evidence that this stuff works.

Chuck Bryant:    Right.

Josh Clark:    The American Meteorological Society said you know we think there’s probably about a 10% effect that this has.  It increases precipitation by 10%.

Chuck Bryant:    Gotcha.

Josh Clark:    And everybody else is who knows.  Does it hurt?  Does cloud seeding hurt?  I can understand trying to mess with a hurricane –

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.

Josh Clark:    – but I mean just shooting silver iodide in the air.  If the Chinese want to do that with their rocket-propelled grenades, you gotta let them have their fun.

Chuck Bryant:    I think you and I should take out these bi-planes here in Atlanta.  I think we should get some dry ice, we should chop it up, and we should go take one of these bi-plane rides on a cloudy day, dump it out and see what happens.

Josh Clark:    That is a great idea.

Chuck Bryant:    Let’s do it.

Josh Clark:    Okay.  Let’s try it.

Chuck Bryant:    Can we charge that on the company card?

Josh Clark:    We probably could.

Chuck Bryant:    Okay.  Good.

Josh Clark:    As long as we documented it somehow.

Chuck Bryant:    That’s right.

Josh Clark:    If you want to know more about things like dry ice, bi-planes, weather modification, flying into hurricanes –

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.

Josh Clark:    – people have actually done that.  I wrote a cool article on it.

Chuck Bryant:    Bill Gates.

Josh Clark:    Bill Gates – you can type all those things into the search bar at howstuffworks.com and it will bring up some pretty cool articles.  And we also worked off of some neat articles that we found online all over the place.  So just search weather modification and have a great time with it.

Since I said have a great time that means it’s time for the Listener Mail.

Chuck Bryant:    Before we do Listener Mail, a couple of quick shout outs.  One, we want to shout out our Kiva Team with a new goal.

Josh Clark:    Yes.

Chuck Bryant:    If you don’t know, if you go to kiva.org/teams/stuffyoushouldknow, we set up a micro lending team – how long ago now?

Josh Clark:    October of 2008.

Chuck Bryant:    Yes.  And it took off –

Josh Clark:    Or 2009.

Chuck Bryant:    It began with a little Steven Colbert challenge, but we quickly dusted him.

Josh Clark:    It was 2009.

Chuck Bryant:    2009?

Josh Clark:    Yeah, we wanted to see who could get to 100,000 first.  I’m not sure his team’s even there yet, are they?

Chuck Bryant:    They didn’t pay attention to us.  But it doesn’t matter.  The point is our team is doing great and we have a new goal thanks to our de facto Captains Quinn and Sonia, they put together the numbers for us.  And our goal as of June 21 of this year is $2 million loaned.

Josh Clark:    Yes.  By the summer solstice.

Chuck Bryant:    Summer solstice – two million bucks is our goal for our team and we are well on our way.  And jump on board, it’s a lot of fun.

Josh Clark:    Yeah.

Chuck Bryant:    And loan 25 bucks and if it gets paid back and you said, you know what that’s the only loan I ever want to make, you can actually get that money back.

Josh Clark:    Yeah.  If it feels dirty to you, just wait like about a month, maybe a little longer, I don't know – and once it’s paid back you can take it out.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.  And Josh has written some great blog posts on micro lending and the controversies around it and why we still support it.

Josh Clark:    Yeah.  So we’re well aware.

Chuck Bryant:    Yes.  And we also want to shout out our buddy, Bill Wadman.

Josh Clark:    Yeah.

Chuck Bryant:    We met Bill in Brooklyn and he’s a very talented portrait photographer.  And he said you know what, I’d love to shoot you guys, you’re on my list of people I’d like to work with.  Came out to the Bell House, took some great pictures.  One of them is now our avatar on our Facebook page and it was a good experience for us – for two guys who really don’t like having their pictures made.

Josh Clark:    Yeah, he was very gentle.

Chuck Bryant:    He was very gentle and they turned out great and you can see his work at billwadman.com, or he has a podcast about photography that is not about oh, this is what lens you should get.  It’s about – it’s called On Taking Pictures and it’s more about the philosophy and science of taking pictures.

Josh Clark:    Did you see the post on us?  He was like – I think it was titled like look at these two shmos I got to sit for me.

Chuck Bryant:    So you can find that at www.ontakingpictures.com –

Josh Clark:    Yeah.

Chuck Bryant:    – and I imagine in iTunes.  I didn’t look, but if it’s a podcast it’s probably on iTunes, right?

Josh Clark:    Probably.

Chuck Bryant:    I hope so.  Anyway, thanks Bill Wadman and good luck to you, Sir.  We’ll see you soon.

Josh Clark:    Yeah.  Thanks, everybody.

Chuck Bryant:    All right.  And now on to Listener Mail.  This is a nice little Christmas homeless shout out to our good friend, Martin from Glasgow in Scotland.

Josh Clark:    Oh, we love this email.

Chuck Bryant:    We love our Scottish friends.  Guys, you asked for a Christmas story while I was listening to your homelessness podcast.

Anyway last year a friend of mine was going to catch a bus and saw a homeless man outside the bus station.  A freezing night and in Scotland you know that it’s cold so he decided to give the guy 20 pounds.  The homeless man began to cry, thanked my friends and explained that he was on the street due to a drug problem and after running away from his family.

However that day he had been thinking of going home to his family for Christmas and cleaning up his life.  Now that he had the money he was going to do just that.  He took my friend’s address because he insisted on paying back.  So my friend gave him the address and caught a bus.

This summer he received a letter from the man explaining that he did in fact go home, he went to rehab and he is now working for his father.  The family is extremely happy and he not only included the 20 pounds as payback, but a picture of him in his dad’s workshop with his dad and his two brothers.

This just goes to show what a little can do for some people, especially around the holidays.  Love the show, guys.  How about a show on the Scottish wars independence.

And that is from Martin.

Josh Clark:    That was pretty good.  Isn’t that an awesome letter?

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah, that was great.

Josh Clark:    I just love that one.

Chuck Bryant:    I do too.

Josh Clark:    Thanks a lot, Martin.  Thanks a lot to all of our people in Scotland.  How’s it going?

Chuck Bryant:    Martin – I didn’t say it right.  It gets worse with every try.

Josh Clark:    You sounded like Truman Capote on the last one.

Chuck Bryant:    I used to – could do a bit of a Scottish accent, it left me.

Josh Clark:    Don’t do Scottish accent, do Sean Connery.  Try it.

Chuck Bryant:    Sean Connery – Martin.

Josh Clark:    See, there it is, right there.  If you want to hear Chuck do a certain kind of accent send us a suggestion.  He takes all comers, right Chuck?

Chuck Bryant:    Sure.

Josh Clark:    You can tweet to us at SYSK podcast, you can join us on facebook.com/stuffyoushouldknow.  You can send us an email at stuffpodcast@discovery.com, or you can join us at our home on the web, stuffyoushouldknow.com.

Female Speaker:    For more on this and thousands of other topics, visit howstuffworks.com.

Male Speaker:    Brought to you by Toyota.  Let’s go places.

[End of Audio]

Duration:  33 Minutes

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