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Hurricane Earl as seen from the International Space Station.

Scientists have made a breakthrough in man’s desire to control the forces of nature – unveiling plans to weaken hurricanes and steer them off course, to prevent tragedies such as Hurricane Katrina - UK Telegraph 21 Oct 2007

The damage done to New Orleans in 2005 has spurred two rival teams of climate experts, in America and Israel, to redouble their efforts to enable people to play God with the weather.

Under one scheme, aircraft would drop soot into the near-freezing cloud at the top of a hurricane, causing it to warm up and so reduce wind speeds. Computer simulations of the forces at work in the most violent storms have shown that even small changes can affect their paths – enabling them to be diverted from major cities.

But the hurricane modifiers are fighting more than the weather. Lawyers warn that diverting a hurricane from one city to save life and property could result in multi-billion dollar lawsuits from towns that bear the brunt instead. Hurricane Katrina caused about $41 billion in damage to New Orleans.

Hurricanes form when air warmed over the ocean rises to meet the cool upper atmosphere. The heat turns to kinetic energy, producing a spiral of wind and rain. The greater the temperature differences between top and bottom, and the narrower the eye of the hurricane, the faster it blows.

Moshe Alamaro, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), told The Sunday Telegraph of his plans to “paint” the tops of hurricanes black by scattering carbon particles – either soot or black particles from the manufacture of tyres – from aircraft flying above the storms. The particles would absorb heat from the sun, leading to changes in the airflows within the storm. Satellites could also heat the cloud tops by beaming microwaves from space.

“If they’re done in the right place at the right time they can affect the strength of the hurricane,” Mr Alamaro said.

The theory has so far been tested only in computer simulation by Mr Alamaro’s colleague, Ross Hoffman. Mr Alamaro said: “With small changes to this side or that side of the hurricane we can nudge it and change its track. We’re starting with computer simulations, then will hopefully experiment on a small weather system.”

Scientists at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem announced that they had simulated the effect of sowing clouds with microscopic dust to cool the hurricane’s base, also weakening it. The dust would attract water but would form droplets too small to fall as rain. Instead, they would rise and evaporate, cooling hot air at the hurricane base.

In findings presented at a conference in Trieste, Italy, the team led by Daniel Rosenfeld demonstrated that dust dropped into the lower part of Hurricane Katrina would have reduced wind speeds and diverted its course.

The MIT team has now hired a professor of risk management to advise on steps necessary to protect themselves from legal action by communities affected if a hurricane is diverted. It is pressing for changes to US law and for an international treaty to settle possible disputes between neighbouring countries.

Mr Alamaro said: “The social and legal issues are daunting. If a hurricane were coming towards Miami with the potential to cause damage and kill people, and we diverted it, another town or village hit by it would sue us. They’ll say the hurricane is no longer an act of God, but that we caused it.”

NASA steers Hurricane Earl in Project GRIP?

In 2007 scientists successfully steered a hurricane in simulation. Are they performing a live testing of their theory with Hurricane Earl? On August 11, 2010 NASA announced that it was less than 2 weeks away from initiating Project GRIP (Genesis and Rapid Intensification Processes) - their quest for the holy grail of hurricane research. Project GRIP will try and discover the exact conditions required to kickstart a tropical depression into a hurricane. Though scientists already know how to develop hurricanes, it is unkown what processes ultimately drive depressions to form into the intense, spinning storms that lash the U.S. coasts each summer.

“Hurricane formation and intensification is really the ‘holy grail’ of this field,” said Ed Zipser, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Utah and one of three program scientists helping to lead the Genesis and Rapid Intensification Processes (GRIP) experiment this summer.

With GRIP, NASA’s first domestic hurricane project since 2001, the agency has assembled the largest-ever hurricane research experiment. Three NASA planes, multiple NASA satellites and four planes from research partners NOAA and NSF will conduct experiments in hurricane forming, manipulation (steering) and intensification. The intense scientific focus on these meteorological processes will provide new insight into the fundamental physics of hurricanes and ultimately give the United States the ability to control hurricanes.

The GRIP fleet includes NASA’s Global Hawk, the unmanned drone built by Northrop Grumman and also used by the U.S. Air Force, WB-57 and DC-8. The NASA aircraft will be deployed from Florida (DC-8), Texas (WB-57) and California (Global Hawk).

“We want to see storms that become hurricanes, and we want to see some that don’t become hurricanes, so we can compare the data. The same is true for hurricane intensification.” ~ GRIP Project Manager Marilyn Vasques

NASA will be using various weather modifying tools to develop, intensify and steer a hurricane. They include a powerful microwave radiometer and a “radar” and a NASA-designed and built lidar (laser radar). The laser radar mounted on a Global Hawk is to be used to heat the top of a hurricane - to weaken a hurricane and steer them. The “radar” that NASA will use is said to be the Sea-Based X-Band Radar. It is a floating, self-propelled, mobile radar station designed to operate in high winds and heavy seas. It is part of the U.S. Defense Department Ballistic Missile Defense System.

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HAARP Sea-Based X-Band Radar (SBX) arrives in Pearl Harbor Jan. 9 2006 for repairs and refurbishment, after completing a 15,000-mile journey from Corpus Christi, Texas aboard the heavy lift vessel MV Blue Marlin

The Sea-Based X-Band Radar is mounted on a fifth generation Norwegian-designed, Russian-built CS-50 semi-submersible twin-hulled oil-drilling platform. The hull was originally built at Vyborg Shipyard, hull number 101. Conversion of the platform was carried out at the AmFELS yard in Brownsville, Texas; the radar mount was built and mounted on the platform at the Kiewit yard in Ingleside, Texas, near Corpus Christi.

The Sea Based X-Band Radar is the world’s largest floating phased array X-band radar. It is operated by the US Department of Defense (Missile Defense Agency) and its movement and location is classified. In 2005 it was engaged in a 52-day deployment in the Gulf where it completed more than 100 major test activities. The 52-day deployment started in late August and ended on Oct. 14, 2005. Air Force Lt. Gen. Henry “Trey” Obering, director of the MDA, said it had demonstrated the ability to achieve most of its major operational and sustainment capabilities. SBX was in the Gulf at the same time as Hurricane Katrina formed on August 23, 2005. On Saturday, August 27, the storm reached Category 3 intensity on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale, becoming the third major hurricane of the season. An eyewall replacement cycle disrupted the intensification, but caused the storm to nearly double in size. Katrina again rapidly intensified, attaining Category 5 status on the morning of August 28 and reached its peak strength at 1:00 p.m. CDT that day, with maximum sustained winds of 175 mph (280 km/h) and a minimum central pressure of 902 mbar.