Make It Rain: State Control of the Atmosphere in Twentieth-Century America

University of Chicago Press
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Weather control. Juxtaposing those two words is enough to raise eyebrows in a world where even the best weather models still fail to nail every forecast, and when the effects of climate change on sea level height, seasonal averages of weather phenomena, and biological behavior are being watched with interest by all, regardless of political or scientific persuasion. But between the late nineteenth century—when the United States first funded an attempt to “shock” rain out of clouds—and the late 1940s, rainmaking (as it had been known) became weather control. And then things got out of control.

In Make It Rain, Kristine C. Harper tells the long and somewhat ludicrous history of state-funded attempts to manage, manipulate, and deploy the weather in America. Harper shows that governments from the federal to the local became helplessly captivated by the idea that weather control could promote agriculture, health, industrial output, and economic growth at home, or even be used as a military weapon and diplomatic tool abroad. Clear fog for landing aircraft? There’s a project for that. Gentle rain for strawberries? Let’s do it! Enhanced snowpacks for hydroelectric utilities? Check. The heyday of these weather control programs came during the Cold War, as the atmosphere came to be seen as something to be defended, weaponized, and manipulated. Yet Harper demonstrates that today there are clear implications for our attempts to solve the problems of climate change.
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About the author

Kristine C. Harper is associate professor of history at Florida State University. She is the author of Weather by the Numbers: The Genesis of Modern Meteorology.
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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Chicago Press
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Published on
Mar 21, 2017
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Pages
304
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ISBN
9780226437378
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Language
English
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Genres
History / General
History / United States / 20th Century
Political Science / Public Policy / General
Science / Earth Sciences / Meteorology & Climatology
Technology & Engineering / History
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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At the dawn of the twentieth century, a great confidence suffused America. Isaac Cline was one of the era's new men, a scientist who believed he knew all there was to know about the motion of clouds and the behavior of storms. The idea that a hurricane could damage the city of Galveston, Texas, where he was based, was to him preposterous, "an absurd delusion." It was 1900, a year when America felt bigger and stronger than ever before. Nothing in nature could hobble the gleaming city of Galveston, then a magical place that seemed destined to become the New York of the Gulf.

That August, a strange, prolonged heat wave gripped the nation and killed scores of people in New York and Chicago. Odd things seemed to happen everywhere: A plague of crickets engulfed Waco. The Bering Glacier began to shrink. Rain fell on Galveston with greater intensity than anyone could remember. Far away, in Africa, immense thunderstorms blossomed over the city of Dakar, and great currents of wind converged. A wave of atmospheric turbulence slipped from the coast of western Africa. Most such waves faded quickly. This one did not.

In Cuba, America's overconfidence was made all too obvious by the Weather Bureau's obsession with controlling hurricane forecasts, even though Cuba's indigenous weathermen had pioneered hurricane science. As the bureau's forecasters assured the nation that all was calm in the Caribbean, Cuba's own weathermen fretted about ominous signs in the sky. A curious stillness gripped Antigua. Only a few unlucky sea captains discovered that the storm had achieved an intensity no man alive had ever experienced.

In Galveston, reassured by Cline's belief that no hurricane could seriously damage the city, there was celebration. Children played in the rising water. Hundreds of people gathered at the beach to marvel at the fantastically tall waves and gorgeous pink sky, until the surf began ripping the city's beloved beachfront apart. Within the next few hours Galveston would endure a hurricane that to this day remains the nation's deadliest natural disaster. In Galveston alone at least 6,000 people, possibly as many as 10,000, would lose their lives, a number far greater than the combined death toll of the Johnstown Flood and 1906 San Francisco Earthquake.

And Isaac Cline would experience his own unbearable loss.

Meticulously researched and vividly written, Isaac's Storm is based on Cline's own letters, telegrams, and reports, the testimony of scores of survivors, and our latest understanding of the hows and whys of great storms. Ultimately, however, it is the story of what can happen when human arrogance meets nature's last great uncontrollable force. As such, Isaac's Storm carries a warning for our time.


From the Hardcover edition.
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