Prior to the work done in the area of storm modification by the South Florida company Dyn-O-Mat, there had not been any attempts to modify hurricanes since 1980, when the NOAA decided to end Project Stormfury.
However, for a period of over 30 years, scientists attempted to find a solution to the hurricane problem through storm modification. Early projects included one led by Dr. Irving Langmuir and a group of scientists at General Electric. The project, called Project Cirrus, focused on seeding hurricanes with dry ice.
Despite some apparent success with the project, not a lot of research done until after the stormy years of 1954 and 1955 when President Eisenhower appointed a special committee to look into storm modification.
Overcoming a lack of enthusiasm and interest in the subject from some scientists, the program took off in the early 1960s with Project Stormfury, which was headed by Dr. Robert H. Simpson, director of the National Hurricane Research Labs.
Efforts in storm modification go as far back as the late 1940s when Dr. Irwin Langmuir began exploring the idea of using ice crystals to weaken storms such as hurricanes. In 1947, he organized a team of scientists from General Electric, and brought his idea to fruition with Project Cirrus.
The highlight of this effort occurred on October 13, 1947 when Langmuir and his team had a Navy plane fly into a hurricane off the coast of Georgia, and drop a payload of dry ice into it.
The hope of using dry ice was to release energy from the storm's inner core. and thus weaken the hurricane itself. It was originally considered a success. After the cloud seeding had taken place, the hurricane suddenly changed direction, and made landfall near the coastal city of Savannah, Georgia.
However, about a decade later, a scientist named Mook recognized that the storm's sudden change in direction was not caused by the seeding, but rather the upper level steering winds in the vicinity of the hurricane.
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Nevertheless, Langmuir's work had generated some enthusiasm. This enthusiasm was particularly strong among officials in the United States Government. In the years following Langmuir's experiment, a number of powerful hurricanes made landfall in the United States.
They included Carol, Edna, and Hazel in 1954, and the first billion dollar hurricane, Hurricane Diane in 1955. All four of these storms were Category Four strength according to the Saffir-Simpson Scale, and caused extensive damage from Florida all the way to New England and even Canada.
In response to these devastating storms, President Eisenhower appointed a Presidential Commission to investigate the idea of storm modification. Despite the lack of enthusiasm for the idea, Congress extended the life of this special committee for another two years in 1956, and by the end of the decade there were scientists that were ready to take another stab at attacking the hurricane.
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In the early 1960s, two significant developments in the area of storm modification energized the quest to weaken and eradicate the hurricane. The first was the development of a new cloud seeding process by Dr. Robert H. Simpson, who was the director of the National Hurricane Research Labs in Miami, Florida.
Simpson, who eventually went on to develop the classification system known as the Saffir-Simpson Scale, theorized that hurricanes could be weakened by releasing frozen nuclei or particles of Silver Iodide compound (AgI) into the wall clouds of a hurricane or tropical storm, and imbalance the forces within the storm system.
Simultaneously, a group at the Navy Weapons Center in California improved seeding technology by developing new seeding generators that would be able to release large amounts of crystals into tropical storms and hurricanes.
As a result, Project Stormfury was born in 1962. Prior to that, a test case had already been done on Hurricane Esther in September, 1961, and with some success. The project team of workers from both the U.S. Weather Bureau and the Navy was able to decrease the sustained winds in the storm by ten percent.
After the creation of Project Stormfury, the new team assembled put together a reformulated idea on how to attack a hurricane. They proposed that a hurricane could be weakened by converting the supercooled water within the deep clouds of the storm is converted to ice, the hurricane's vertical column of air would be warmed and the storm would be weakened.
The team didn't have many chances to work on this new idea over the next eight years because there wasn't any storms that were far enough from land, and the team didn't want to risk litigation in case something went wrong. The team did have several chances though.
First, in 1963, they were able to conduct tests on Hurricane Beulah, but with only marginal success. Then, in 1965, the team considered seeding Hurricane Betsy, but due to the close proximity to Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands, and the storm's erratic motion, the team did not go through with it, and Betsy ended up slamming into South Florida and causing severe damage.
Betsy was the last major hurricane to make a direct hit on South Florida before 1992 when Hurricane Andrew devastated Homestead, Florida and ended up causing $27 billion dollars in damage. Finally, in 1969, Project Stormfury was going to have a significant test case.
It was on the heels of Hurricane Camille barreling into the Gulf Coast regions of Mississippi and Alabama when Hurricane Debby was seeded on a couple of occasions over the two day period of August 19-20, 1969. Each time the storm was seeded, sustained winds were reduced significantly.
The first time, winds dropped 31 percent while the second time, they only dropped 15 percent. The apparent success with Debby helped fuel new projects, and improvements in technology. In particular, Hurricane Hunter aircraft, which went up dramatically during the 1970s.
Ultimately though, Project Stormfury was cancelled in 1980 since the team was unable to clearly ascertain whether or not the seeding efforts were really causing storms to weaken, or the systems just became victims of the environment around them. Nevertheless, the work done did bear some fruit as forecasters and scientists alike were able to learn a great deal from their research, and it has helped them improved forecasting accuracy.
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