I literally get a brain cramp having to write stuff like this. It is utter foolishness. However, I try to find the teachable moments in all of it. In case you haven’t noticed, we are currently living a reality in which people believe COVID-19 is planned by the government or that perfectly legitimate elections were somehow fraudulent. There are also people that believe the Earth is flat, climate change is a hoax, or that contrails from airplanes are some mind-controlling ploy. Geez, where is Bigfoot when you need him? Such things are so pervasive right now that it honestly was not surprising to see a fact-checking article explaining how President Joe Biden did not cause the winter storm that recently crippled Texas and other parts of the U.S.
Daniel Funke, writing for Politifact, literally had to debunk a Facebook post that claimed President Biden manipulated the weather and controlled the jet stream to cause the winter storm. I am an atmospheric sciences professor at the University of Georgia and the former President of the American Meteorological Society, the nation’s largest weather-related professional society. I have served on expert studies for the National Academies, advised Congress and White House officials, and chaired NASA’s Earth Science Advisory Committee. I can assure you that there is no weather manipulation capacity like that.
Believe it or not, wacky conspiracy theories emerged saying that presidential candidate Barack Obama engineered Hurricane Sandy to help him when the 2012 Presidential Election. My question is, “wow, how did a candidate get all that mythical power?” All kidding aside, they blamed something called HAARP, which stands for The High-frequency Active Auroral Research Program. While it is the subject of numerous conspiracy theory corners of the world, it is actually a legitimate research program that uses a high-power, high-frequency transmitter to study the ionosphere. Before you freak out about them transmitting stuff, it is useful to remind everyone that weather radars transmit pulses of microwave energy into the air every day to tell us whether it is raining.
Chemtrails are often cited as weapons for mind control or weather manipulation. Those white cloud trails (contrails) coming from airplanes flying at very cold altitudes are caused by basic physics processes. However, somewhere along the way conspiracy theorists started claiming they are chemical-laden weapons. This stuff has gotten so far out of hand that Dr. Keith Seitter, executive director of the American Meteorological Society, penned an editorial entitled, “Chemtrails, HAARP, and Dealing with Misinformation.”
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Jet streams are strong bands of wind encircling the globe that have direct influence on our weather patterns. The recent Texas winter storm was related to the jet stream. Many climate scientists, based on recent studies, believe that periodic (and sudden) warming of the stratosphere over the Arctic is connected to weakening of the Polar Vortex. This can happen naturally by the way. When it happens, lobes of the jet stream can plunge further into the lower 48 states bringing Arctic cold air. While there is still debate among scientists, a credible body of peer-reviewed papers suggest that Arctic Amplification (region warming faster due to anthropogenic activities and feedbacks due to loss of sea ice) is leading to more frequent weakened Polar Vortex events or “wavier” jet stream patterns.
I included the aforementioned information because even though there are no hidden weapons controlling our jet stream patterns, climate change, due in part to human activity, is likely altering our weather patterns. To be clear, there certainly are weather modification efforts:
Historically, results of these techniques have been mixed as reported in the scholarly literature. At times, I get the question about dropping a nuclear bomb into hurricanes. My 2019 article in Forbes explains why that is a bad idea.
There are also inadvertent ways that human activities can modify the weather. They include:
- Air pollution blocking solar energy.
- Air pollution particles from ships, planes, or factories seeding clouds (By the way, check out the information below shared by Birmingham TV meteorologist James Spann on Facebook showing possible factory-enhanced snow shower in Alabama). I once published an overview of a similar event in Kansas.
- Land use changes (deforestation, irrigation, overgrazing, agriculture, urbanization) modifying temperature, humidity, cloud, and rainfall patterns.