"The earth was hard and cracked and the countryside looked like a scene from a dead planet. Day after day the sun beat down on the savannahs. Local cattlemen were apprehensive, wondering if the long overdue rainy season would ever come. The herds were dying off, their remaining cattle were bony and milkless.
"I had been living in the little cluster of huts in Northeastern Nigeria for two months, the only white person for miles around. There hadn't been any rain for two years. The weather had taken its toll on the people, sleeping sickness was as rampant as weeds. The heat shortened the duration of all activity, even conversation.
"Then suddenly one morning a villager sensed moisture in the air. He went wild. He said the rain was coming. Ripples of hope ran through the village. People stopped their work, looked up, and sniffed at the air. I myself felt nothing.
"The third day after the news you could feel a gentle breeze, very, very gentle. People grouped in two's and three's talking rapidly; you could feel the tension rise. I was afraid to think about it, afraid to scare the coming rain away.
"It was the night of the fourth day when they began to dance. It was an incredible spectacle, they pulled on the rain as a magnet pulls on filings. Way off and low on the horizon you could see a thin line of gray.
"The next day the dancing began at sunrise and ended at dusk. Their drums and bodies yanked about like fish on a line. I sat stupefied. They were tugging at the storm, making their bid to bring it closer.
"The next afternoon you could hear thunder rolling in the distance and by evening see lightning. The rain was close enough so that I could even smell it, and as darkness set in, the dancing began anew. The momentum grew and grew; the people needed the rain, they had to have it. The dancing climaxed once again, and finally ended in sprawled exhaustion short hours from sunrise. The rain would come by morning, or not at all.
"When I arose the skies were blue and the heat stifling. The air was heavy with depression. People talked in hostile spurts and their faces mirrored their suffering. I began to feel eyes on the back of my head and I knew they were beginning to believe that my presence had kept the rain away. Quietly, quickly, I entered my little hut, climbed through the back window, and ran off across the parched savannah, never looking over my shoulder."
This experience, recounted by a member of the British Voluntary Services Overseas, may be unusual, but weather stories are common in 1972-'73. Drought is killing green life in India; sub-Sahara Africa, Central America, and it has been dry in the plains of Canada. The equilibrium is established by flood waters in the United States.
The Mississippi River system inundated 12,623,000 acres in seven states this April and early May. The Mississippi River Commission estimated damage costs of over $420 million. Spillways sitting unused for twenty years were opened by the Army Corps of Engineers. People died; homes and roads were destroyed; volunteers, pulled together by a common enemy, fought long hours against the water.
Flooding in June 1972 resulted in over S2 billion damage, a record. Three hundred and sixty lives were lost, the second highest loss of lives due to flooding recorded in America. Parts of South Dakota, Florida, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut were declared disaster areas.
In Spring late blizzards dropped several feet of snow on Iowa and the Mississippi Valley. Ranchers suffered heavy losses to their livestock in Montana and Wyoming when they were socked in with two feet of snow, in the worst storm on record for that late in the season.
Meanwhile, 26 people have been killed by tornadoes so far in 1973, only one fatality short of the total for 1972. Between March 31 and April 23, 175 twisters occurred, a figure well above the average.
Because of the nature of their profession, farmers hardly suffer the least in hard weather.
"It's been a real funny winter. It started so darn early in the fall with storms and has just kept going. I hope it finishes one of these days, we haven't got anything in except the alfalfa.
"I was just telling the milkman this morning, 'God, if the weather keeps up like this, I'll quit million'! The grass won't grow because it's too cold, so the cows haven't got any greens to eat. The hay's all wet, and the buggers won't eat
going to all concentrate somewhere and be unacceptable."
Owen Thompson, chairman of the meteorology section of the American Geophysical Union, says, "One has to be very careful about accusing mankind of doing things to the environment, especially the atmospheric environment, because when you look at the total volume, the total energy involved, you find out that man is pretty weak. Get together with some people and try to modify the weather. Try to make it do something it wouldn't do by itself. You'll find it's a damn hard thing to do.
"We tend to notice the extremes in our experience. We tend to disregard the means. If we live in Washington D.C. and we notice there was no snow this past winter, we remember it because it was extreme. Immediately we ask, what possibly has happened? Was it natural or man-influenced?
"Then you go talk to a man in Texas, and his concept of this past winter is entirely different. He got snow down there he hasn't seen in a number of years. So the most notable thing in my mind is the lack of snow in Washington, and the most notable thing in the mind of the man in Dallas is the cold, and the most notable thing of someone else is something different again. So I think it's a little unreliable to take our experiences in that light, hold them as valid and ask questions.
"If you find global averages for precipitation and temperature, and they happen to be more or less severe than some other winter, it wouldn't be surprising because if you look at such measures of severity from one year to the next, you never find a smooth curve anyway. It's only when you average twenty or thirty winters together that you see something that you might call "normal," and how normal is that? If I were to find out next year that Washington D.C. had 93 days below zero, it wouldn't raise any great question in my mind. I would say, well, we went below the curve."
Dick Gilluly, spokesman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), says, "The problem is that we are doing all sorts of things without knowing what it is that we're doing. So, in effect, all creatures and people become guinea pigs for all sorts of reckless experimentation.
"When DDT first came out everyone thought it was a great boon, there was no malevolent intent. This was going to improve health in underdeveloped countries. This was going to increase crop yields over the world and feed starving people. Then Rachel Carson came out with Silent Spring and people said, 'My God, look what we've done! ' "
During the past few years, the federal government has sponsored several programs. NOAA is researching hurricanes, cloud seeding, lightning, hail control and even induced snowfall. Yet the main practice of modification falls into the hands of private industry. The government recognizes the imminence of a water shortage, high storm damage, and a possible technological solution, while private enterprise sees the possibility of high crop yields. It is always hard to separate modification results from natural "noise." As Dr. Schneider points out, "It would be a disaster at this point to launch large scale modification programs because we don't know what the inadvertent consequences might be. We have a lot of homework to do before we either make these large scale modifications that are envisioned or discontinue effort. If everybody started modifying the weather there would be a collective effect that we don't know about."
There is a situation in the San Louis Valley in the Colorado Rockies that exemplifies this point. Coors Beer Company is involved in cloud seeding to insure enough rain for farmers under contract to grow barley. But does the rain come at a good time for the local cattlemen? Furthermore, the Bureau of Reclamation projects are known to increase precipitation five to ten percent over the San Louis Valley region.
One scientist comments, "The problem with all of these things is that scientists have developed the means, the technology, and now we've seen it can backfire. But it is misplaced to put all the blame on science. There is a difference between science and technology. Technology is now totally under the control of the 'free enterprise system.' They tend to maximize short term profit with very bad effects on the future.
"There's a man at Yale named Arthur Galston who did a lot of work and developed 2-4D, a weed killer. He did it very benevolently, wanted to increase crop yield. The military took it and sprayed it all over Vietnam, and now he's very upset. But what can he do? He can't say, 'I retract my discovery.' "
Actually, two controls have been set up. One is that everyone intending modification must apply to a local advisory board of farmers and scientists to gain a permit, and the other is
the establishment of an office in Washington D.C. called Technological Assessment. The success of these two is impossible to determine at this date.
In June of 1972 Science magazine printed a story about hints, coming initially from the Pentagon Papers, that the Department of Defense had been seeding clouds over the Ho Chi MinhTrail in Cambodia. This added a new dimension on weather modification research. Department of Defense officials remained tight-lipped through press inquiries. Senator Claiborne Pell, Democrat, Rhode Island, was the main catalyst of a senate hearing on the matter, and again the D.O.D. said all information in that regard was classified.
Weather a weapon? Meteorologist Peter Caplan submitted a letter six months ago to the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society that went unprinted. The letter began, "I have long been concerned about the dominant role played by the Department of Defense in the field of meteorology. Not only is the D.O.D. the single largest employer of meteorologists, but the military also dominates the research funding picture. I'm sure you are well aware that for the fiscal year 1970, for instance, D.O.D. financed over 31 percent of all atmospheric research. And, if the largely military oriented NASA contribution is in-
cluded, the total exceeds 65 percent. I believe that anyone aware of the urgent problems that need immediate attention in our society cannot fail to see this as a gross distortion of priorities."
Dr. Stephen Schneider replied to the letter, "It's true, but it's not as insidious as Caplan makes it out to be. Most of the meteorological research that comes from the D.O.D. that I am aware of is unclassified, which means that it's the kind of work a meteorologist does anyway. The reason the military's in the business is two-fold. One, of course, is they see a weapons potential, and that work is so classified we probably don't even know about it. The other is that they're partially paranoid, and partially accurate in thinking there are other powers doing the same thing.
"I can't disagree with the Department of Defense; there are other powers researching, and for whatever reason, we should know as much as we can about weather and cloud modification. But I can't possibly justify the other half, the research for weapons potential. All weather and climate modification work
should be unclassified and open so no nation will use it for military leverage.
"Our industrialization, our land development, our agriculture is going to modify the climate became what we're fooling with is a coupled system. If we don't understand how it works we're going to get ourselves in the soup inadvertently; to forestall understanding would be inconceivable disaster. So we have no choice but to develop technology.
"We can't live off the land - that's one of the mistakes we've made. We have a resource and population problem, and we have to make up for it. We are going to have to understand how we're modifying the weather and climate. If we don't develop our technology, we bring ourselves to the brink of disaster by over-resource use. It you could get it to rain in the wintertime in India, you can bet they'd do it over and over again, and I wouldn't blame them. They're trying to feed a starving population.
"If everybody starts doing it on a large scale, then these things interact, and we're back to our circle again. Push this corner and the other corner bounces back. Where and how much it bounces - these are the questions that science is having trouble with now.
"We're all in it and were all in it together. Science is one of the few areas where people get along sanely. Nature and weather and their study don't respect political boundaries, and why should they? We're all in this closed system. Mexico suffers from mistakes made in Colorado, a thousand miles away. And we all know that Middle East states would go to war if attempts were made to divert the Jordan River. That's why all of us had better realize that we're on this planet together. I'm sorry that the current outlook makes me a bit pessimistic, but we all have our national, vested interest. Science is one of the few places of international communication, and we should open it all up." The Eye of the Storm
Bob Swanlund is an example of someone who has let the weather modify his life. Like the farmer and the fisherman, he has great respect for nature because he integrates himself into its circle. His home is a National Forest Service lookout. From his kitchen window he can see Kansas, 200 miles to the east.
"My wife and I live at an altitude of 11,500 feet, and except for people in South America and Tibet, we live year around at a higher elevation than anyone in the world. Asa result of that, we experience many things that the average individual never has the joy of going through. It's amazing to commune with the birds and animals - we share our lives with them. In our windows we feed as many as 500 birds at a time.
"One thing we learned is that you can tell when a storm is coming in because of the feeding habits of the birds. They'll come for their food in huge flocks prior to the storm before we can even see it. I've looked down and seen the elk and the deer leave the meadows and go for the timber before a storm. The timber will protect them from the winds and the force of the storm and you can tell if the storm is a big one or just a rain or snow shower, because unless it's big, they stay in the meadow. I don't know why, but the chipmunk becomes very wary before a storm; he won't even get along with his brother chipmunk.
"Our concept of life has changed quite a bit as a result of the conditions in which we live. For example, your perspective from here enables you to realize how much like ants humans are becoming in the cities. They actually have groups which they never wander out of. They've lost their communication with other groups, they isolate themselves when they travel, they're completely lost and they don't know what to do with themselves. When they enter another group it's like one ant going to another ant hill - the queens don't accept them. You lose your general perspective - one thing that I don't think my wife and I have lost. We are able to accept anything we've ever seen.
"Three years ago my wife and I were trapped in our jeep down below here while trying to get out. We were in the jeep for 13 hours. The snow kept getting deeper and deeper during the night and we didn't dare leave that jeep. I got out every hour and dug out the exhaust pipe.
"And although my wife got quite irritated, I was complacent - I accept things like that. I know they're going to be and I can't do a damn thing about them. So I occupy my mind. I'm interested in mathematics and electronics, and I thought about that. And I thought about people.
"You see, when you're in a close situation like that, you need something with which to occupy yourself. People with hobbies - my mathematics - or who read a lot or who can think freely get along fairly well. Those who don't, those who only think about what they or somebody else can do for them, don't get along. Either they get stale and morose, or they get vicious. I've experienced this myself.
"Have you ever lived on a farm? I did when I was a kid. We had these huge storms come through and we would go out there
and actually save the lives of our cows and sheep - manhandling them, moving them, picking them up, carrying them, covering them, feeding them. Afterwards you have a feeling of well-being because you did the job well. This is the feeling you strive for. You do things well so you can have it. This comes naturally when you live here, and I think it's one of the reasons Pm here.
"We used to sit up here and watch a storm come in. It worried us because we didn't know what new troubles would come with it. Now we know how to prepare for it. We sit back and watch these massive clouds coming and we say, 'Hey, here comes another storm.'
"Having this understanding, this communication, gives you great wonder about such a thing as nature. It makes you realize again and again how relatively small you are compared to the vastness of the universe. We have two telescopes up here that we often use. Studying the heavens lets me know how damn small I am - mentally and physically - and how insignificant this earth is compared to outer space. How insignificant are we compared to our own sun?
"And to watch a storm come in isn't no fearful when you consider this. You see, fear is more or less a selfish thing. It evolves directly from self-preservation. You are fearful that you may become hurt or you may not have the things that you want because a certain event occurred. You fear for your own preservation.
"And what I've learned is that you can overcome fear by becoming proficient in self-protection - preparing yourself physically and mentally to overcome that symptom of fear. Understanding what is happening is one of the best ways to overcome fear. Take for example, the deeply religious who fear with every move they make that they will offend some god or another. I don't think they understand God."
Understanding, then, is the aim of both the outdoorsman and the scientist. The weather, though, demands only respect. We've already threatened to unbalance the flow of the natural circle, and science has obliged itself to understand how. Schneider says, "We have a lot of homework to do, and we need computers at least a thousand times better than they are now to succeed." Not even an artist could imagine the proper variables to include in the mathematical models. For as Bob Swanlund points out, "There's nothing we've ever seen or ever done or ever lived with that is predictable."
Scientific study of weather is often far removed from day-to-day existence of the forest ranger and farmer whose lives revolve around the weather. They learn from it and respect it. "For me and my livelihood the weather is everything," said a fisherman in Portland, Maine. "If you have a storm it can rip your gear up like it was a piece of paper. You lose your gear and you've lost everything."
A fisherman in Seattle, Washington, reports, "I was working in a 67-foot crab boat out of Kodiac in Alaska. Our hold was full, the deck was covered with crab pots, we were ready to go home. The wind picked up from the west blowing, oh, 80 or 100 miles an hour. We held out for three or four days, laying anchor in a little cove in Rumble Bay.
"Then one morning the wind died down to about 20, so we pulled up and headed out around four a.m. The run home was 31 miles, usually a four-hour trip. We got out in the middle and the wind picked up again, the meter holding steady at 100. The temperature dropped down to 16 below, but it was too late to turn back. Our decks, the pots, everything was coated with ice. The waves were mountains, and we were so weighted down by the ice that our bow dove into them over and over again. The water rushed in and the drains were full of ice, the stern cockpit full of water and looked like a full bathtub. When we finally got home 24 hours later no one could believe we had made it. That was the winter of '62; we lost 16 boats and 38 men then."
What does one learn from an experience like this? I asked a Seattle veteran of the sea named Joe Popich to tell me of any especially intense lessons that he had learned from either the weather or the sea.
"Well, I guess … the time I broke down alone out there. 1957. We were broken down for 27 hours."
There was a long pause. Finally Joe exclaimed, "Naw! Let's have a drink. I don't want to talk about that. I don't want to witness that again."
"That bad?" I asked. "I just watched your face go through an incredible change."
"It was my life. You'd better believe it … Torturous, that's all … But I made it … Scary? You'd better believe scary … " "What happened?"
"I was a floating duck," Joe said. "But that's just one thing."
"What did you experience?" I was asking the same question.
Joe sighed … "Fear, do you know what fear is? Hey, do you see these arms right here? I got bigger arms than anyone walking on the docks … Fear … What good are those arms? Fear! You want the truth? I'll tell you the truth, I'm not kidding anybody. Fear. Yes, I'll admit it."
"But you made it. How did that make you feel?"
"I thanked God that I was alive."
"And you still go out?" I asked.
"You got to go out. You got to survive. Scared, yes, I was scared. But I love fishing and I'll go out over and over again.
"Respect, that's the key word. It's the first thing you have to remember. If you ask any man about the sea and the weather and he doesn't use the word respect, he's a liar. Because the power in the sea and the weather is greater than the power that you have. You challenge it, but not in the respect that you try to overpower it. You love it. That is the struggle that you live and love for. This is what is beyond the money that you need to earn. You find yourself against something that you know is much more powerful than you are. Is that something that you can understand?"