In the midst of the coverage of Hurricane Irene, one post from the New York Times in particular caught my eye. As folks struggled to wrap their heads around a potentially massive hurricane making landfall in New York and the potential subsequent devastation, the post drew attention to “Category 7,” a 2007 work of fiction about a fictionalized hurricane of unprecedented strength unleashed (purposefully!) onto NYC by an evil master of “secret, cutting-edge weather science.”
While so-called “weather warfare” is officially banned (the Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques – an international treaty adopted in 1976 – formally prohibited such activities), more innocuous weather modification techniques are surprisingly common. Cloud seeding is a process used to increase precipitation, reduce hail, or eliminate fog by means of spraying tiny particles such as silver iodide into the sky to trigger cloud formation.
Most weather modification licensing and regulation happens at the state level. For a good example of weather modification laws, you can see Title 9, Chapters 301 and 302 of Texas’ Agriculture Code. However, federal level law requires certain weather modification activities to be reported to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA): “Any person intending to engage in any weather modification project or activity in the United States shall provide a report of his intention, to be received by the Administrator at least 10 days before the commencement of such project or activity.” (see 15 CFR Part 908)
A 2009 congressional bill (S. 601) would have established a Weather Mitigation Research Program within the National Science Foundation, and authorized a “research and development program to improve the understanding of processes relating to [weather modification activities].” While today’s weather modifications are mostly limited to those serving agricultural purposes, future activities are likely to focus on mitigating climate change and its effects (like deadly hurricanes!). A recently released GAO report assessed “climate engineering technologies, focusing on their technical status, future directions for research on them, and potential responses.”
Interested in reading more about weather control? Check out this great piece in Harper’s Magazine, Disaster aversion: The quest to control hurricanes by Rivka Galchen.