We share the grief of all the folks and families in Joplin, Missouri injured and killed in the recent tornado onslaught. Several of our clients flew in to pick up the pieces of business and lives lost. We hope the rebuilding process moves smoothly.
In the United States, spring storms and the billions of dollars in damage left behind were the result of a confluence of more violent weather hitting densely populated areas. Over a six-week period this spring, tornados ripped through Southeastern and Midwestern states flattening neighborhoods in large urban areas such as Raleigh, North Carolina, Tuscaloosa, Alabama and Joplin, Missouri. By the end of May 2011, tornados have already killed 365 people in the United States, a figure nearly six times higher than the three-year average of 64 deaths, according to the National Weather Service. Again, by the end of May, 1,151 tornados have occurred in the United States this year, nearing the 1,282 reported in all of 2010, but below the all-time high of 1,820 in 2004. In our view, with climate change almost certainly here to stay, we have to start to plan on more tornados and more devastation. Or do we?
Current estimates of P&C insurance losses peg the cost and insurance losses in the range of $10-20 billion. In our view, that is a lot of cash—couldn’t we invest some of it in stopping the cause and not simply keep ducking and then pick up the pieces? We have performed some web research and we remain amazed there is so little ongoing activity to aggressively counter or “stop” tornados. Understanding we have amazing computers and folks on the moon and seem to have progressed as a species a little over the last several centuries, it is hard to believe when it gets windy, we basically run for cover and hold on for dear life. Our vote is to start to raise money and attack!!
Please note there is a bit of a difference between tornadoes and hurricanes. The storms causing tornados are typically about 2-6 miles across. In contrast, hurricanes grow to be the size of the state of Texas. We may want to duck from hurricanes a little bit longer but we vote the government and private industry should start thinking about counter-attacking storms which cause tornados that are 2-6 miles across—we are sorry but we don’t think it can be that challenging.
While some might assume this idea to be an absurd one, we have checked it out. It turns out there is limited research devising ways to control the weather—particularly disastrous weather systems like tornados. There is an indication they hope to put their ideas to the test in the coming decades. Any storm depends on a host of complex, interrelated drivers, like heat flows and wind movements. The basic anti-storm strategy is to take the smallest of these factors, the one most amenable to change, and change it—in the manner, say, of throwing a wrench into a mill at a factory in hopes so disrupting one part of the system will cause the entire assembly line to shut down.
Yet disrupting storm systems may be harder than one would think. Here are a couple of our thoughts:
1. Bring out the fans—what would it take to bring in and install gigantic movable fans around city centers where tornados are likely to strike? The goal wouldn’t be to stop the tornado, just slow it down and break it up so it didn’t kill people and destroy homes. We understand the need would be for lots of monster-sized fans but if tornados actually cause billions of dollars in damage and potentially kill thousands of Americans; how about spending $10 million on large movable fans to see what you could do?
2. Baffle, baffle, baffle—we have two thoughts on building giant anti-tornado baffles.
a. Plan A is to use garbage!! To our understanding America is trying to find places to put our refuse—why not build mini-mountains of garbage dumps to break up high wind? We have to do something with the stuff anyway—let’s put it to better use in tornado alleys.
b. If that doesn’t work, it is our understanding tornados in the northern hemisphere all move one direction, why not build major league wooden or metal baffles that would block wind in that direction or even slow it down?
3. Fry them--recent research indicates in order to form, a tornado needs both a cold, rainy downdraft and a warm updraft. To stop a tornado from forming, just heat the cold downdraft until it's cold no longer. And how would one do this, you ask? Simple: Blast it with beams of microwaves from a fleet of satellites. The satellites would collect solar energy, transform it into microwaves and send a carefully directed beam down to the storm on Earth. The beams would be focused on cold downdrafts, heating them like last night's leftovers. The European Space Agency has funded initial studies on building this type of satellite, though it hopes to use the satellites as high-altitude solar-power stations, not as weather modifiers. How do we get NASA involved in a down-to-earth problem?
Understanding government money is tight, we look to the efforts of P&C insurers to see if they care about what is happening right now and what we may see in the future. We appreciate your thoughts and comments.