Moshe Alamaro, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), told The Sunday Telegraph of his plans to "paint" the tops of hurricanes black by scattering carbon particles – either soot or black particles from the manufacture of tyres – from aircraft flying above the storms. The particles would absorb heat from the sun, leading to changes in the airflows within the storm. Satellites could also heat the cloud tops by beaming microwaves from space.The ability to steer hurricanes or weaken them would greatly reduce the damage that hurricanes cause. Of course steering a hurricane from a major city to another area has its own issues.
"If they're done in the right place at the right time they can affect the strength of the hurricane," Mr Alamaro said.
The theory has so far been tested only in computer simulation by Mr Alamaro's colleague, Ross Hoffman. Mr Alamaro said: "With small changes to this side or that side of the hurricane we can nudge it and change its track. We're starting with computer simulations, then will hopefully experiment on a small weather system."
Last month scientists at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem announced that they had simulated the effect of sowing clouds with microscopic dust to cool the hurricane's base, also weakening it. The dust would attract water but would form droplets too small to fall as rain. Instead, they would rise and evaporate, cooling hot air at the hurricane base.
In findings presented at a conference in Trieste, Italy, the team led by Daniel Rosenfeld demonstrated that dust dropped into the lower part of Hurricane Katrina would have reduced wind speeds and diverted its course.
But the hurricane modifiers are fighting more than the weather. Lawyers warn that diverting a hurricane from one city to save life and property could result in multi-billion dollar lawsuits from towns that bear the brunt instead. Hurricane Katrina caused about $41 billion in damage to New Orleans.It seems like a no brainer that is a good idea to steer a hurricane away from a major city, but the questions of who should have the power to do it and what rules should there be regarding it are not as easy to answer.