Pssst. Have you heard? Hurricane Katrina was intentionally steered to hit New Orleans. The Russians -- a clique of KGB secret-police hardliners who took over a secret weather-control weapon developed for the old Soviet military -- did it. In fact, according to retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Bearden, they've been dickering with U.S. weather patterns since 1976.
Or maybe it was Japan's yakuza mobsters. In 1989, they supposedly leased Russia's weather-control system. Did they make a financial killing by shorting U.S. oil stocks, then shepherding Katrina to swamp offshore oil rigs and onshore refineries?
There's no shortage of such conspiracy theories on the Internet. Search for "weather warfare" on Google, and you'll get 68,000 hits. Or take a gander at www.freedomdomain.com/weather.html and www.gaiaguys.net/bearden.weathwars.htm.
POPEYE'S PROGRESS. To almost all scientists and weather professionals, this sort of rationalization is ludicrous. But there's no denying that technology capable of controlling the weather would be a potent military and political weapon. One of the pillars of U.S. science, mathematician and computer wizard John von Neumann, started working on weather modification right after World War II. In the late 1940s, he convinced the Defense Dept. to invest in research that he hoped could be used to vanquish Communism by causing droughts and devastating crops in the Soviet Union.
Apparent early successes with cloud-seeding tactics that induced rain spurred the Pentagon to fund modest efforts for some 20 years, and it unleashed a concerted five-year assault during the Vietnam War, starting in 1967. Dubbed Project Popeye, its goal was to prolong the monsoon season and thus impede the movement of enemy troops and supplies on muddy jungle trails.
By 1977, the military was spending $2.8 million a year on weather-modification research. That year, partly in reaction to Popeye, the United Nations passed a resolution banning the hostile use of all environmental modification techniques. This led to a treaty that the U.S. ratified in 1978. Although the treaty doesn't ban peaceful applications, or so-called benign weather modification, the Pentagon elected to eliminate all such research in 1979. The Kremlin continued its weather-modification work, however.
BOMBARDED BY SUN SPOTS. In 1996, amid signs of significant progress in Russian research, a group of seven Air Force and Army officers suggested that, in their personal opinions, the Defense Dept. should revive its efforts. In 30 years, they explained, weather-related and computer technologies might advance to the point where "weather modification can provide battle-space dominance to a degree never before imagined." The group's treatise was titled, "Weather as a Force Multiplier: Owning the Weather in 2025."
What alarmed the brass-hat seven were Russia's experiments at creating layers of artificial ionization in the upper atmosphere. Such natural layers act as mirrors for radio signals and enable long-range, over-the-horizon radar and radio transmissions.
But as ham radio operators know well, nature's ionospheric mirrors are fickle. They fluctuate, due mainly to solar flares and sun spots that bombard Earth's atmosphere with high-energy x-rays (photons), electrons, and other ionizing particles. Severe solar storms can disrupt all radio signals, even satellite communications. They also affect the weather.
If Russian researchers had found a way to match the power of the sun's ionizing radiation, they could knock out satellite communications at will -- blinding the spy satellites on which the U.S. military relies so heavily. With microwave-energy beams of sufficient power, it might even be possible to fry the electronic circuits in orbiting "birds" and permanently knock out the entire U.S. satellite fleet.
HAARP: WEATHER TUNING? That's not all. Theoretically, such a weapon could also create a layer in the ionosphere, which stretches upward from 50 miles (80 kilometers), that would serve as a missile shield over Russia. Ballistic missiles plunging down through this manmade layer of ionizing energy could be zapped and rendered harmless.
In fact, a decade before the "Owning the Weather" report was written, that sort of missile shield had been outlined by U.S. researcher Bernard "Ben" Eastlund, president of Eastlund Scientific Enterprises in San Diego. What spooked civilian conspiracy campers was that the Pentagon in 1995 began operating what appeared to be a prototype of Eastlund's missile-shield system.
Innocuously called the High-Frequency Active Auroral Research Program, or HAARP, it had nowhere near the power that a missile shield would need. But the weather-conspiracy worriers fretted that HAARP was being used, or would be, to test potentially hostile weather-modification schemes.
RADICAL CONCEPT. HAARP harkens back to the early 1980s, when Eastlund was retained as a consultant by Atlantic Richfield Corp. (Arco). His task, he recalls, was "to find some way of using the huge deposit of natural gas they had discovered on the North Slope of Alaska." Arco had initially considered a pipeline, like the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, but rejected that as too costly.
What Eastlund concocted was a radical concept: An enormous field of special antennas, covering 1,600 square miles, that could beam energy produced from the natural gas into the sky. The beams would create mirrors that would then bounce microwave energy back down to receiving antennas in the lower 48 states or someplace else, where the energy would be converted into electricity.
Eastlund reckoned that the energy could also be reflected down on top of a thundercloud that was spawning a tornado. Twisters are formed by warm air rising through a layer of cool air, creating a downdraft. Computer simulations showed that injecting heat would stop the downdraft, halting the formation of a tornado -- even swatting one that was already whirling.
STAR WARS' HEYDAY. Both of those notions came to naught, however. "Everybody lost interest because the power requirements were too much," says Eastlund -- up to a million megawatts. But he continues to refine his idea. He claims to have worked out a way to drop the power required by a factor of 1,600, and still be able to untwist tornadoes. He's also doing research on new technology for manipulating winds to steer hurricanes.
Eastlund's approach is similar to the one envisioned by Ross Hoffman, vice-president for research at weather-consulting firm Atmospheric & Environmental Research in Lexington, Mass. (see BW, 10/24/05, "Herding Hurricanes"). But instead of beaming down heat from solar-power satellites, Eastlund thinks maybe an ionospheric mirror or rejiggering the jet stream could turn the trick.
While Arco was twiddling its thumbs, physicist Eastlund briefed the Pentagon on how his energy reflector could function as a missile disrupter -- just the sort of missile shield depicted in "Owning the Weather." His proposal was welcomed warmly. After all, it was the mid-1980s, the heyday of President Ronald Reagan's Star Wars initiative.
PERSISTENT ELF. In addition, Eastlund told the Defense brass that his field of antennas could solve a long-standing problem for the U.S. Navy: How to communicate with submarines while they're submerged for months on end. The antennas would bounce energy off the ionosphere as extremely low-frequency (ELF) radio waves. Unlike the radio frequencies normally used for communications, which are quickly absorbed or distorted in water, ELF signals can pierce the oceans for great distances.
Generating ELF signals is HAARP's main mission. Located about 320 miles east of Anchorage, near Gakona, Alaska, HAARP had 18 antennas and 360 kilowatts of transmitter power in 1995. Today, HAARP can strum 48 antennas and 960 kW of power -- and it may ultimately expand to 180 antennas and 3.6 megawatts of power. Even that is way short of the thousands of antennas and hundreds of megawatts of power that Eastlund figures would be needed for a missile shield or tornado buster.
But don't bother telling that to conspiracy addicts. They remain convinced that HAARP is really bent on mucking with the weather. And around 2020, maybe the Pentagon will start building a really, really big antenna field.