PART 6 - THE WEATHER MODIFICATION RESEARCH AND TECHNOLOGY TRANSFER AUTHORIZATION ACT OF 2005
Weather modification discussion of November 10, 2005
This is Part 6 of the article: Statement of Hon. Kay Bailey Hutchison.
(The article has been cut up in 8 parts due to email technicalities that have to do with gmail.
STATEMENT OF HON. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON, U.S. SENATOR FROM TEXAS
Senator HUTCHISON [presiding]. Thank you.
Well, I very much appreciate the three of you coming. I’m sorry I’m late, but I do want to talk to you. I’ve read your testimony, and I’ve also read the executive summary of the report in which you participated. This was an issue brought to me by a distinguished former State Senator from Texas, John Leedom, who is with us today, and his wife, Betty, I see. But I thought that the points that he made to me were certainly worth pursuing.
And it seems to me, from all of your testimony, that further research is something that the scientific community wants to see happen. And I think, from what Dr. Garstang has just said, that the view of the scientific community and the committee that you are on is that we shouldn’t be running out there doing things until we have the research that either proves what the long-term effects are going to be, or not. And I think it’s very important that we pursue this research, which is why I’ve introduced the legislation.
I am very interested in the findings and recommendations of the Committee in which they say that it is recommended that we have a sustained research effort in this area. And I want to pursue this a little further when we get into questions. I know that Senator DeMint has to be on the floor at 3 p.m., so I’m going to defer to him to ask his questions first. But I am going to want to talk to the three of you about how we should pursue this research, which is the purpose of my bill, and to get the best results, and especially to determine, from what was said in the report—that there is a growing demand for fresh water, the increasing levels of damage and loss resulting from severe weather—would indicate that we should be researching what we can do to mitigate damage and also provide a more steady, even, and balanced source of fresh water, rather than having a Hurricane Katrina while there is a drought in other parts of our country.
So, I will pursue that, but I will yield to Senator DeMint, because he has another—this, I will tell you, just so that you understand—because this is the last week or 10 days of our session, all of us have hearings and conference committees, which is what I had to attend earlier, and why I’m late. We had a conference committee on our transportation bill, and I’m sure you’re going to the floor for your bill. So, why don’t you go——
Senator DEMINT. OK.
Senator HUTCHISON.—forward, and I will——
Senator DEMINT. Thank you——
Senator HUTCHISON.—follow you.
Just a quick question, and I will have to leave in a just a moment, but——
This is a fascinating subject for me. The idea that we could actually impact weather is exciting and, I guess, frightening, in some ways. But, Dr. Golden, you mentioned just some successes, the successes of adding to the snowfall in mountains and, again, I guess we can’t get into a lot of science today, but I assume if we’re able to get additional snow in one area, that some other area is not going to get as much rainfall or moisture-fall. I mean, we’re not putting more moisture in the air, we’re just collecting it in a different place. Is that the concept?
Dr. GOLDEN. This is one of the very areas that we need to do a lot of additional research under Senator Hutchison’s bill. But the work that has been done—and there are—we did some of this on our FACE program in Florida. We looked at what you’re talking about is extra-area effects. If you seed in a target area, are you robbing Peter to pay Paul in areas that are downwind? And both in the FACE Project, as well as in other States—in Utah, we looked at possible downwind effects from seeding in the mountains of Utah. Did they see any decreased snowfall in Southwestern Wyoming? The answer is no. Even the most ardent proponents of the mountain seeding will tell you that you’re only processing—you’re only affecting a very small fraction of the water vapor that passes over the mountains. And so, all of the results in both winter oragraphic mountain seeding, as well as convective storm seeding suggests that either you have no effect downwind or it’s a slight increase. But, again, there needs to be additional research. There’s nothing that suggests large increases outside your target area. It’s either no effect or very weak positive effect.
Senator DEMINT. And you mentioned other countries apparently using this successfully. I mean, are there any studies that the scientific community would recognize that says Australia, or, I think you mentioned, China, have actually been successful in weather modification?
Dr. GOLDEN. Some of them, yes, but it’s still—I think what Dr. Garstang says is true, there still needs to be work on evaluation. And while I’m not a strong proponent of using only statistical evaluation, I think, for example, there are—some of the new computer models and tracers—we now have come a long way in just the last 10 years; and this is an effort that we pioneered in this country.
There are now tracer techniques that you can use right when you seed to tell you not only how much increase in snow is due to the seeding, but how much of the seeding material actually made it into the snow that fell. And so, this has just been developed over the last 10 years, and they’re just starting to apply this technology in the Australia program. So——
Senator DEMINT. Well, thank——
Senator HUTCHISON. Could I ask a question just on that—— Senator DEMINT. Sure.
Senator HUTCHISON.—same subject, while you’re here?
There are ten States and probably 66 operational modification programs just ongoing now by States and local water agencies. Is there any place that those projects that are ongoing, operations that are ongoing, where data is collected at a central point so that we do see the effects of those particular operations as they are supposed to be working?
Dr. GOLDEN. No. You raise a very good point. I mean, that’s what we’re all about today, is—I talked to one of the biggest operators that supports many of these programs, both in the U.S.—many of the operational weather modification programs—and they told me that—he estimates that there is now an expenditure per year, a combined expenditure, just in our country, of $25 to $30 million per year on operations. But since the demise of my AMP program, there is no central focus. And, frankly, most of the operational groups that support the seeding activity feel that most of their funding has to go to the seeding effort, to the operations. So, they look to the Government. They look to the Federal Government to play the major role here.
To be honest with you, some of them, recognizing the value of research to helping them evaluate what they do, are supporting small research efforts. The newest entry into this, by the way, is the State of Wyoming. They’re about to start a new $8 million program of snowpack seeding enhancement.
Senator HUTCHISON. At the very least, we ought to be—— Senator DEMINT. Yes.
Senator HUTCHISON.—gathering the data.
Senator DEMINT. So, we’re spending $25 million a year, but we really don’t have any quantitative data that suggests that it works, just more of an—empirical evidence that people believe there is some impact, right?
Dr. GOLDEN. They do their own evaluation. No, I don’t mean to say—they are not—not much of that money is going to support any of the research that Dr. Garstang recommended in his report. Most of that is for their operations and some evaluation.
Senator HUTCHISON. But nothing is gathered nationally—— Dr. GOLDEN. Right.
Senator HUTCHISON.—to see what the effects are.
Senator DEMINT. You’re going to have to excuse me. Senator HUTCHISON. OK, thank you.
I wanted to ask you, because we’ve been through some particularly bad weather situations this year, is there any thought in the scientific community that you could, by, say, seeding, maybe, a hurricane in the early stages, that you could lessen its effect, make it start dropping earlier, and lessen its effect when it hits land? Is there any potential for that kind of modification? We’ve been talking about modification, obviously, over land, where you’re trying to get rain for crops. But we also are looking at ways to maybe even out the kind of weather and rainfall that we would have. Is there any hope that we could eventually use some kind of scientific means like this to take out the violence of a storm?
Dr. GARSTANG. I’ll pick that one up, Senator Hutchison.
Yes, as Dr. Golden said, there was a program, STORMFURY, that did, indeed, attempt to—and they used the word ‘‘moderate’’ a hurricane, change its wind speeds. And although it’s controver- sial now, there was a conclusion that they had, indeed, got evidence for a reduction of 15 percent in the wind speeds. Now, if you take a hurricane wind from 100 miles an hour down to 85 miles an hour, the damage is the square of the wind velocity, so you mitigate damage considerably. However, as I said, there’s question about that.
There are no current methodologies that could be employed to reduce or to deflect a hurricane. However, there are very promising computer models that are beginning to suggest how we might ap- proach this. And, interestingly enough from what Dr. Golden said, one of the most advanced pieces of work is being done by the European community’s National Center for Meteorology or long-range/ medium-range forecasting. And it’s using our ideas. But there are efforts in this country where the model suggests that very small effects might have quite drastic consequences. And this is a characteristic of the atmosphere.
I’m sure you know that the whole theory of chaos came from a meteorologist, Dr. Ed Lorenz, from MIT, where he was trying to determine what, in all these small effects—and to use the kind of analogy that he used, the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil creates a tornado in Kansas. In other words, these very tiny effects can have, ultimately, very large consequences.
Models now are being used to find these. Are they there, and can we find them? And Dr. Ross Hoffman’s work suggests that, yes, they are. It’s not clear how you would necessarily bring that about, but if we don’t pursue this work, we will never know the answer.
So, the answer is: not right now, but yes in the future.
Senator HUTCHISON. Thank you.
Dr. DEFELICE. Yes, I’d like to just add to this. I think the—excuse me, technical difficulties—I think under your bill, once it’s passed, I would recommend to the board an implementation plan for the research that would be conducted under it, and part of that plan would involve hurricane modification and some of the issues that my distinguished colleagues have mentioned. But I would just want to emphasize the need to do modeling studies to test all possible seeding scenarios relative to the result of those inputs. Get the best models that we can on hurricanes, because there are really—there’s some really good ones out there, even in the United States. And then have some of our computer scientists add a computer program—or a subroutine that would act like we were seeding them, but not do any seeding.
Under our plan, the implementation plan for this bill, there would be no way that the Government would be doing any operational cloud seeding or anything like that. They would—hurricane modification and all that research would have to be done by models. And once the modeling studies were complete, then one might form a hypothesis which might be testable out in the field. But we would know what would happen or think we know what would happen, based on the models. I just wanted to emphasize the use of models in any severe-storm type of modification research that happens under this bill. At least that would be my view and hope.
Senator HUTCHISON. If you were going to do an implementation plan—say, we pass the bill, we have appointments to the board, and you would want a representative board from the different areas of weather expertise, but what areas do you think would be the most productive in which to do research? Obviously, cloud seeding for fresh water. And hurricane or violent weather modification would be two. What else could we gain from this kind of effort?
Dr. DEFELICE. I’ll start, and then I’m sure there’ll be plenty to add to it.
I would think that we might consider looking into clearing out fog in the vicinity of airports, and perhaps other areas, particularly in the Northeast, which might benefit from increased sunlight particularly during the winter. So, these would be cold clouds. Another area would be hygroscopic seeding. And there’s a lot that’s not known about that. There’s a lot of promising results.
Senator HUTCHISON. ‘‘Hygroscopic,’’ being?
Dr. DEFELICE. Putting small salt nuclei into the proper part of the cloud so that those nuclei would help enhance the interaction between the droplets in the cloud, so that would then, in turn, produce more precipitation.
Senator HUTCHISON. Is that different from other types of cloud seeding, or are there different forms?
Dr. DEFELICE. It’s just that—that is different in the sense that it’s just a different way to trigger the precipitation process in the cloud. You can use agents that would grow ice crystals in the cloud. But those clouds would have to be cold enough for the ice to exist, if it was to form.
Senator HUTCHISON. OK.
Dr. DEFELICE. But those would be the primary areas.
Senator HUTCHISON. Any others?
Dr. GOLDEN. I want to emphasize—and I wish Senator DeMint were here—that one of the terrible things that happened when we cut STORMFURY in the early 1980s was that, beginning at that point, the research funding for hurricane research in NOAA stead- ily declined. And it’s declined ever since. The other thing that happened is that most of our research on cloud physics evaporated. People left the agency, people changed their careers. In fact, there are almost no cloud physicists left—cloud physicists in NOAA have become an endangered species.
Why is that important? It means that if you don’t understand the cloud physics, as Dr. Garstang emphasized, you have no hope of understanding how you might beneficially modify clouds to produce increased rainfall. And that feeds back into being able to predict heavy rain and heavy snow. In other words, this is one of the top priorities for my colleagues in the National Weather Service. I mean, we all get frustrated that our skill scores, our forecast accuracies for heavy rain or heavy snow aren’t what they need to be. And so, this is all linked together, so that there is no doubt in my mind that any investment by this bill in weather modification re- search will yield big payoffs in the prediction arena. And, as I said in my testimony, ultimately we’re never going to be able to convince ourselves or anyone else that we’re successful in weather modification unless we can do a good job of predicting the unmodified natural event. That’s the—that’s one of the most fundamental questions.
Dr. GARSTANG. I certainly agree with all of those sentiments. But I’d like to emphasize that if the bill could bring cohesive and sustained effort directed at solving the outstanding problems that we know are roadblocks to our progress, if you can remove these roadblocks, you can progress. And if you simultaneously, with this coherent program, brought to bear on it all of the technological advances that have occurred in the last 30 years, there would be immediate and tremendous advances. Dr. Golden has referred to a couple.
For example, in the successful, I think, attempts at increasing snowpack on the Sierras and western slopes of the Rockies, we didn’t know where the seeding material was going. We now can determine precisely where it’s going. And often it didn’t go where we thought it was going, didn’t go where it would do any good. We also can precisely describe the flow fields through the cloud. We couldn’t do that 10 years ago.
These techniques have not been coherently brought to bear on weather modification. As soon as we do that, we will have immediate results.
Let me give you an analogy. Let’s assume that all of cardiac investigations were prevented from using the technological advances that have occurred in heart research over the last 20 years. Where would we be in preventing heart disease today? We would be way behind where we are.
We have not brought these same kind of sophisticated techniques, which are in place, to bear on the problem. And if you could create that situation where that was possible, you would get immediate results.
Senator HUTCHISON. Have you looked at my bill? I would like to ask each of you. And do you have any suggestions on any ways to improve it?
Basically, what I’m trying to do is establish this research and a board that would be made up of experts from these various areas with various expertise that would be advisory to the Department of Commerce and NOAA. And my question is, Is there something that you would suggest that would make it any more able to achieve the goal of more emphasis on research, an implementation of the research, and an advisory board made up of experts that would really focus the Department on the areas that should be looked at that we’ve discussed?
Dr. DEFELICE. I think, as—let me just check—thank you. As I looked through the bill, I think one rule of thumb that I’d like to see—and I believe I’ve seen this—was to have a multidisciplinary approach to the research agenda, and have the board basically get together with these multidisciplinary components of the field and discuss the priorities. Now, we come up with priorities, and this is great. And, from what I heard they make sense. But there might not be enough money to carry out all of those particular items. So, I think we need to make sure that we have representatives from all components of the system that we’re trying to research, includ- ing the general public. So, if the general public is going to be in- volved, then we might have to have an outreach component, which I strongly urge be in there. I think it is. And we would want rep- resentatives from the scientists—science community, maybe some sociologists, economics-type people, commerce, and, so on. But the point is, we want people that are affected by the system, and we need those people to represent each component of that system, so that when we do develop the priorities, everybody will be rep- resented in that process, and will be part of it, and will—should stay with that process from beginning to end.
Senator HUTCHISON. Well, I’d—we certainly——
Dr. DEFELICE.—that’s great.
Senator HUTCHISON.—do have a multidisciplinary concept, and if there are any other disciplines that should be added, I would like for you to write me a letter about that later.
Dr. GOLDEN. No, I don’t want to tinker with your bill. I think that the board is well represented. Is NSF—do they have a representation on the board?
Senator HUTCHISON. It is the—one representative of the National Center for Atmospheric Research of the National Science Foundation.
Dr. GOLDEN. OK. Because they, in the past—this is no longer the case, but in the past, I know that during my AMP Program, we did—some of the States actually got—funded proposals through NSF, and then NSF has also stopped supporting weather modification research. But, I mean, your bill—I think it’s fine. I think it says that the board can appoint extra staff, and it can appoint sub- committees. And, no, I wouldn’t want to second-guess that. I think once they’re assembled, then they can start tackling this issue of national priorities, and I think they’ll come to the AMS, they’ll come to the American Society of Civil Engineers, they’ll come, hopefully, to the Weather Modification Association, and—I mean, these are the venues where the national priorities could be set. I have no problem with that.
Senator HUTCHISON. Dr. Garstang?
Dr. GARSTANG. I have only had the benefit to discuss your bill. I have not read it. We hadn’t—it wasn’t in time when I got notified to appear here. But I would be glad to look at it carefully, because I gather, from both yourself and from discussions, that you’ve in- corporated a lot of ideas, results from the NRC report. And I would be glad to send these to you—to your staff in writing right away.
Senator HUTCHISON. I would really be pleased if you would, because I think we all are on the same wavelength regarding the need to have an emphasis here, trying to implement that through an advisory board. I think the advisory board—we tried to make it representative of the different areas of expertise, and—so, I’d like to move the bill, so I’d like to have all of your comments and look forward to perhaps being able to do this in——
OK, I’m told that Senator Ben Nelson had a witness recommendation who was unable to attend the hearing and has submitted a statement to be included in the record, Commander Donald Wilhite, Director of the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska. *
Senator HUTCHISON. OK. Well, I have no further questions. Is there anything further that any of you would like to add for the record?
Senator HUTCHISON. If not, we will give you a copy of the bill, Dr. Garstang. And I hope that we can all come together. And I hope Senator DeMint will work with us, as well, to try to move this forward.
Thank you very much for your time, and I learned a lot, and I think we can make some great headway in this area with your expertise.
[Whereupon, at 3:25 p.m., the hearing was adjourned.]
* The information referred to has been printed in the Appendix.
(Go to Part 7.)