July 29, 2009
As we reported in May, more than 25 years after termination of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Project Stormfury, which aimed to weaken hurricanes by seeding clouds with silver iodide, the Department of Homeland Security has been attempting to involve NOAA in establishing a hurricane modification program of its own.
Given the dubious results of past research and a host of other concerns, NOAA appeared unwilling to provide the critical support the DHS program requires.
The rebuff by NOAA is now official.
A letter dated July 29 to William Laska, program manager for DHS's Advanced Research Projects Agency, from Richard Spinrad, director of NOAA's Office of Atmospheric Research (OAR), states, "While OAR recognizes that weather modification, in general, is occurring through the funding of private enterprises, NOAA does not support research that entails efforts to modify hurricanes."
NOAA's position and rationale, as laid out in the letter (PDF) made available by OAR, is essentially the same as described in my earlier post. Namely, the DHS proposal was inconsistent with NOAA's priority of mitigating the toll of hurricanes on life and property through improved forecasts, warnings and preparation -- not hurricane modification.
Is this the last word? Maybe not. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) recently introduced The Weather Mitigation Research and Development Policy Authorization Act of 2009. The legislation proposes appropriations of $25,000,000 for each of the fiscal years 2010 through 2014 to the National Science Foundation. Of this, 34 percent is to be divided and transferred to NASA and, yes, NOAA.
The legislation speaks only of weather modification in general without specifically mentioning hurricanes. However, this press release makes clear Hutchison's intentions to "mitigate the impact of severe climate and weather events, particularly hurricanes and storm surges." At a recent Senate hearing (which I attended) on Weathering the Storm: The Need for a National Hurricane Initiative, Hutchison reinforced her intentions but left no hint that she was aware of the DHS program and NOAA's rebuff.
Spinrad testified at the hearing, but deftly avoided answering direct questions about his thoughts on hurricane modification. 
Letter to William Laska, program manager for DHS's Advanced Research Projects Agency, from Richard Spinrad, director of NOAA's Office of Atmospheric Research (OAR) saying no to DHS funds to study hurricane mitigation, citing past failures with Project Cirrus, Stormfury, and SCUD.
Thank you for the opportunity to review the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Statement of work for the Hurricane Aerosol and Microphysics Program (HAMP). Research scientists and managers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR) met in April to discuss research collaboration with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on hurricane modification. OAR firmly agrees that hurricanes pose a significant risk to our nation's security through the cost of human life and economic property damage.
While OAR recognizes that weather modification, in general, is occurring through the funding of private enterprises, NOAA does not support research that entails efforts to modify hurricanes. NOAA, and its predecessor agency, once supported and conducted research into hurricane modification through Project STORMFURY from 1962 to 1983. Project STORMFURY was discontinued as the result of: I) inconclusive scientific results, and 2) the inability to separate the difference between what happens when a hurricane is modified by human intervention versus a hurricane's natural behavior. Since Project STORMFURY's end 26 years ago, NOAA scientists have gained substantial insight on the complicated and interconnected processes within the overall hurricane environment. Yet, it remains unclear if enough knowledge has been gained to make any new modification attempts practicable. 
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