Could technology tame future Katrinas and Ritas?

Real-time and historical data could provide the ultimate technology ROI.

We all know how much informational power technology has provided us in recent years. And we have very powerful and sophisticated systems that can draw on current and historical data to model impending hurricane events. But can we use this information and technology to actually tame these ferocious beasts? 

Ross Hoffman, a principal scientist and vice president for research and development at Atmospheric and Environmental Research (AER) in Lexington, Mass., wrote in Scientific American last year (October 2004) that it may be possible someday to head off hurricanes. Hoffman and his team took models of past hurricanes (Andrew and Iniki in 1992) and tweaked changeable variables such as temperature, and found, at least in the modeling, that the hurricanes changed course or were reduced in ferocity. "The most significant modifications proved to be in the starting temperatures and winds," Hoffman wrote. "Typical temperature adjustments across the grid were mere tenths of a degree, but the most notable change--an increase of nearly two degrees Celsius--occurred in the lowest model layer west of the storm center. The calculations yielded wind-speed alterations of two or three miles per hour. In a few locations, though, the velocities changed by as much as 20 mph because of minor redirections of the winds near the storm's center."

Armed with real-time information and analysis of temperature variations within an approaching storm, proactive measures could be taken, such as selectively heating parts of the storm with microwaves or coating the ocean surface underneath with a layer of biodegradable oil to slow evaporation. Or, perhaps altering air traffic in days previous to hurricane events to "precisely position contrails and thus increase cloud cover."