The Rewards and Risks of Hurricane Busting
By Gar Smith, Roving Editor @ The-Edge
July 26, 2002
Everybody talks about the weather, but Peter Cordani actually wants to do something about it. In Cordanis case, its hurricanes. Hes got no use for them. And, as a resident of Riviera Beach, Florida, Cordanis got cause to fear and hate these high winds from Hell.
Between 1953 and 1954, six killer storms raked the East Coast, killing 400 people and leaving $6 billion in damages. In 1992, Hurricane Andrew careened into Florida and Louisiana, killing 25, destroying more than 125,000 homes and racking up $40 billion in damages.
Peter Cordani calls himself an environmentalist but hes not the kind of Jacques-Yves Cousteau environmentalist who stands back and marvels at the majestic forces of nature. Cordani is more the Steve Crocodile Hunter Irving type. He cant wait to jump on the back of something wild and threatening and wrestle it into submission.
Cordani believes that he can rid the world of hurricanes with a powdered synthetic acrylic co-polymer crystal called Dyn-O-Gel. Dyn-O-Gel is manufactured by Dyn-O-Mat, a company that Cordani runs. As Cordani explains, Dyn-O-Gel is capable of absorbing 2,000 times its weight in moisture, condensation and air.
The product is familiar to many home gardeners who turn it into dry soil where it stores, and slowly releases absorbed water over time.
Cordani sees himself as an environmentally aware entrepreneur. Cordani bemoans the environmental catastrophes that people and machines have caused over the last century. As CEO of Dyn-O-Mat Inc., he says, my everyday goal is to invent, design, manufacture and distribute environmentally safe products that are durable, ultra absorbent and especially cost effective.
How the Hurricane Gel Idea Jelled
Dyn-O-Mat CEO Peter Cordani and Presidnet J. D. Dutton. Photo credit: Dyn-O-Mat (www.dynomat.com).
As Cordani recalls it, the idea of using a soil conditioner to kill hurricanes occurred to him one day when he was using Dyn-O-Gel to service one of his watercraft. He happened to splash some sea water on the gel and, voila, it dissolved before his eyes.
Cordani theorized that, if one were to drop enough Dyn-O-Gel into an onrushing hurricane, this could literally suck the evaporative life out of the storm, causing the hurricane to hemorrhage and collapse. The saturated polymer would then turn into a water-soaked gel that would rain harmlessly into the sea. (Dyn-O-Mat claims that the gel has EPA approval for use over the ocean.)
The dynamic entrepreneur couldnt wait to put his theories to the test. In July 2001, he filled a C-130 jet with 20,000 pounds of Dyn-O-Gel and roared off the runway at Palm Beach International airport to confront a budding thunderstorm.
The plane dispersed $40,000 worth of granules into the swirling mass, while Cordani nervously wondered whether his $1 million experiment would pay off. Back on land, weather watchers monitoring Doppler radar screens looked on in amazement as the thunderstorm completely vanished from sight.
Only Pecos Bill Could Lasso a Hurricane
Hugh Willoughby with the Miami office of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was not overly impressed with Cordanis caper. As Willoughby saw it, decapitating a thunderhead is childs play compared to knee-capping a hurricane. Most scientists believe that sprawling tropical storm systems are just too vast to be controlled by the hand of man.
From 1961 through the early 1980s, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) ran a program called Project Stormfury that dumped barrel loads of silver iodide crystals into clouds in a failed attempt to master the magic required to make storms vanish into thin air.
(According to NOAA records, the governments plans to rid the world of hurricanes also included: cooling the ocean with cryogenic material or icebergs, retardation of surface evaporation with monomolecular films, changing the radiational balance in the hurricane environment by absorption of sunlight with carbon black, blowing the hurricane apart with hydrogen bombs, injecting air into the center with a huge maneuverable tube to raise the central pressure, and blowing the storm away from land with windmills.)
Willoughby publicly expressed doubt that Cordanis Dyn-O-Gel granules packed enough dew-sucking oomph to seriously diminish a hurricane. Cordani was ready with an answer. In the 2001 test, he replied, had used a polymer that absorbed 250 times its weight in water. Since then, Cordanis crack research team had devised new gel capable of sucking up 2,000 times its weight in water an eight-fold improvement.
Cordani admits to certain limits. He realizes its impossible to obliterate an entire hurricane but, as he told New Scientist in August 2001, what we would do is break it up and reduce its strength and killing potential. By flying in and dropping a line of absorbent powders from the outer rim of the storm through to its eye, Cordani believes it would be possible to sap the storms winds by 15 mph.
Still, Cordani is convinced that his environmental absorbent products are just what is needed to protect humanity worldwide from hurricanes and typhoons. Sometime this summer, storm windows permitting, Cordani hopes to send a fleet of Dyn-O-Mat planes aloft to harpoon a hurricane 15 miles offshore in international waters.
Hurricane-hacking sounds like a noble mission, but there could be some serious environmental clouds cropping up on the horizon.
What Goes Up and Comes Down Doesnt Go Away
Dyn-O-Mat officials have disputed reports linking their July 2001 experiment to the appearance of a mysterious phenomenon called black water in the Gulf of Mexico. On July 19, three days after Cordanis company used four tons of polymer to nip a thunderhead in the bud, ABC News reported that a gelatinous goo had washed ashore in West Palm Beach, Florida. The substance was identified as Dyn-O-Gel. The company disputes the link.
But there may be a much bigger environmental problem than the appearance of dark glop on the waves and beaches. The unforeseen geophysical consequences of hurricane-killing was raised by reporter Bob Fitrakis in the weekly Columbus Alive. In an interview with Fitrakis, author and weather watcher William Thomas conceded that. While the prospect of saving homes and lives by sucking the moisture-fueled energy out of giant revolving storms was alluring, such grandiose geo-engineering schemes make me nervous.
A hurricane provides an immense service to the atmosphere, Thomas observed. Short of a volcano, a hurricane is the most powerful heat-venting force on the planet. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) illustrates this quite effectively with the observation that, when Hurricane Andrew passed over South Florida, the heat energy released around the eye was 5,000 times the combined heat and electrical power generation of the Turkey Point nuclear power plant over which the eye passed.
Climate change caused by the accumulation of heat-trapping greenhouse gases has led to a steady increase in the surface temperatures of the worlds oceans. This has lead to an increase in the frequency and ferocity of tropical storms, typhoons and hurricanes.
But it is critical to understand that this increase in storm activity is natures way of trying to dissipate the thermal overload. Extreme weather, including hurricanes, are merely a symptom of a larger problem. The error of seeing a hurricane as a problem when it is a solution was manifest in a prominent AP headline that described Cordanis July 2001 storm-stunting coup as A Hurricane Cure.
Shutting down a hurricane may save Tallahassee from a drenching and spare Miami a drubbing, but it doesnt solve the problem that gave rise to the storm. In fact, by short-circuiting the natural progression of weather reactions that traditionally redistribute huge thermal inventories, destroying a hurricane could trigger an unforeseen array of downstream weather events as the energy from the strangled storm is suddenly forced to find new avenues of expression.
No one really knows what will happen if this safety-valve is wired shut and ocean regions made even hotter, Thomas told Columbus Alive. As Thomas noted, energy is never destroyed only displaced. The awesome heat pumps disabled by Dyn-O-Mat have to go somewhere
. What kind of storms will this produce? Do we really want to risk making the oceans hotter by dissipating their hurricane thermostats?
The Dyn-O-Mat Pantheon
Dyn-O-Mat claims that it only manufactures products that are absolutely necessary for our customers to comply with the ever-growing environmental laws effectively and efficiently.
Without question, Dyn-O-Mat has been ingenious in reinventing one basic product time and again. Since it first appeared as Soil Moist, the line of Dyn-O-Mat environmental absorbent products has expanded (like the substance itself) to include Dyn-O-Fire (a fire retardant), Dyn-O-Drought (a rain-maker), and an endless variety of Dyn-O-Mat mats designed to absorb gasoline, diesel fuel, oil, anti-freeze, battery acid, hydraulic fluid, paint thinner, transmission fluid, muratic acid, solvents, household cleaners, glue, water paints, crayons [?], pen marks, water and more! [Interrogatory added.]
The Auto Mat, Utility Mat, Workbench Mat, Gun Cleaning Mat, Pet Mat and Toolbox Liners are all designed to absorb Hazardous Liquids for a Brighter Tomorrow.
Cordani takes pride in the somewhat lofty claim that the companys products accomplish mutual environmental and humanitarian goals. The firm states that it gives special emphasis to make certain that our products during and after use do not create new problems and maintains that, in its quest to protect our environment, [the company makes] certain that none of our products are hazardous to anyones health.
Dyn-O-Mats webpage argues that its absorbent mats are environmentally friendly because, instead of winding up in a landfill, they can be recycled or incinerated. But this begs the question: what becomes of the hazardous chemicals filling the mats that are tossed into the recycling bin or municipal incinerator?
Dyn-O-Mat proclaims that its mats can be rinsed in a conventional manner, air dried and reused. This in only true, however, so long as the mat has not absorbed hazardous liquids.
Dyn-O-Mat states that all its products are OSHA and EPA friendly. Still, even a product as benign as nontoxic, biodegradable Dyn-O-Moist must be handled with respect. As the companys operations manual instructs: During application
always utilize a safety mask to avoid inhaling of product dust particles. Furthermore, If the project is accidentally applied to body parts, flush extensively with water to avoid potential skin irritation.
Using Dyn-O-Gel for Weather Modification over Land
If there was a 50-mile storm front moving in, we could only put holes in it. It would just keep coming. But if you wanted to keep a storm from raining out a World Series playoff, Cordani says, a planeload of Dyn-O-Gel would get rid of it.
The plan to use the gel to kill storms and cause rain raises concerns. The reason the hurricane application was so appealing is that, as soon as the gel falls from the sky, it is swallowed by the ocean.
This would not happen over land. If Dyn-O-Gel were used to stimulate rainfall over the parched Midwest, farmers might start complaining about rows of corn covered with black gelatinous goop. Similarly, causing an impending storm to release its raindrops before encroaching on a major sporting even could leave upwind residents scraping jellied residues off their cars and living room windows.
When the product was tested as a fire-retardant and dropped on a one-acre blaze from a crop-duster, it was so successful at blanketing the ground with an oxygen-unfriendly layer of slush that when company crews went into the area and tried to re-ignite the fire with flame throwers
their efforts were unsuccessful.
Dyn-O-Mat claims that 24 hours later the gel-like substance had been absorbed into the earth, giving it new life. There was no information to substantiate the claim that the gel biodegrades into a soil-nourishing mulch.
The Storm Window is Open. Will Butterflies Emerge?
The 2002 hurricane season opened on June 1 with NOAA predicting from nine to 13 tropical storms, two to three of which could become major (111-plus mph winds) and six to eight of which could reach hurricane force.
The 2002 test if it happens will employ a fleet of AeroGroup aircraft flying in formation to deliver a massive shot of Dyn-O-Gel into a hurricanes eye. According to Dyn-O-Mat, the goal is to at best, implode a hurricane; at worst, substantially reduce the storms strength.
All of this calls to mind Edward Lorenz Butterfly Effect, the "sensitive dependence on initial conditions" that underlies chaos theory. The concept that small effects may have large and unpredictable consequences was memorably encapsulated in the question: Can the flap of a butterflys wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?
When youre dealing with a hurricane, thats a mighty big butterfly.
For more information contact:
Dyn-O-Mat: http://www.dynomat.com, Hurricane Research Center www.aoml.noaa.gov/hrd.