False claims swirl on Hurricane Hilary, weather manipulation

Social media posts claim a rare tropical storm that hit the US state of California in August 2023 was manipulated, possibly using military weapons. But there is no evidence Hurricane Hilary was the result of such action, and scientists say no existing technologies can affect the intensity or path of such a cyclone.

"Is our weather being modified or is this 'climate change?'" says Matt Roeske, founder of the alternative health company Cultivate Elevate, in an August 19, 2023 Instagram video.

In the video, Roeske -- whom AFP has previously fact-checked for spreading misinformation -- shows patents and projects supposedly used for weather modification around the world.

Another post on Twitter, which is being rebranded as "X," says: "Is this weather manipulation by Haarp? Seems like they may be forcing this to accommodate the great reset."

The claim from CBKNEWS, an account AFP has also previously fact-checked, refers to HAARP, a former US military initiative now housed at the University of Alaska. The project conducts research on the ionosphere using a high-energy transmitter and has been the target of numerous conspiracy theories.

One X user commented that Hurricane Hilary moved "faster than originally forecast because of the HAARP blasts." Meanwhile, a YouTube video claimed Hilary was controlled by "geoengineering" and a Facebook user called the storm "weather warfare" and a "pretext to implement martial law."

<span>Screenshot of an Instagram post taken August 23, 2023</span>
Screenshot of an Instagram post taken August 23, 2023

The posts offer no evidence that Hilary, which at its peak registered as a Category 4 hurricane, was manipulated -- and meteorology experts say that while there are numerous weather modification projects, there is no existing technology that can control a storm of that size.

"There is no way we can create a hurricane or control its intensity or direction at the moment," Roelof Bruintjes, a project scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), told AFP on August 23. "People have talked about it, but there are no tools for this today."

Derrick Herndon, a former military meteorologist and a hurricane researcher at the University of Wisconsin, agreed, saying that while "cloud seeding" can work on a small scale, it is not feasible with a massive hurricane.

"A hurricane is large; it's hundreds of miles across, made up of thousands of thunderstorms," Herndon told AFP on August 22. "There's nothing in any technology we have that could modify anything on that scale ... The amount of material you would need is beyond our ability."

He added that even if such technology existed, "you would have to know the exact path of the storm, and there’s no model that's accurate enough."

Hugh Willoughby, a Florida International University professor who has spent decades researching weather modification, said most US scientists have concluded these efforts have little to no effect on hurricanes.

"A hurricane drifts with the surrounding winds, and you would have to change the surrounding winds for hundreds of miles around it," he told AFP on August 24.

Meteorologists say Hilary's path was uncommon but explained by existing weather conditions, including cool ocean temperatures and a "heat dome" across the United States.

"It was picked up by an upper-level low-pressure system, and with the heat dome it was a perfect flow channel," Herndon said.

How HAARP works

HAARP says on its webpage (archived here) that the high-energy transmitter cannot be used for weather modification.

"Radio waves in the frequency ranges that HAARP transmits are not absorbed in either the troposphere or the stratosphere -- the two levels of the atmosphere that produce Earth's weather," the project says. "Since there is no interaction, there is no way to control the weather."

HAARP's research is in the ionosphere, which is more than 30 miles above sea level and beyond the influence of surface weather.

"If the ionospheric storms caused by the sun itself don’t affect the surface weather, there is no chance that HAARP can either," the initiative says on its webpage.

"The HAARP system is basically a large radio transmitter. Radio waves interact with electrical charges and currents, and do not significantly interact with the troposphere."

Willoughby said such technologies do not have enough energy to affect a hurricane.

"It has a lot of energy on a human scale, but not on an atmospheric scale," he said.

To get enough energy to modify a hurricane, he said "you'd have to dim the lights around the entire planet."

AFP contacted HAARP for comment, but no response was forthcoming.

History of weather modification

Some 50 countries have experimented with weather modification since the 1940s, according to the World Meteorological Organization (archived here).

These are generally small-scale projects "to ease drought conditions and help ski resorts," said Cynthia Barnett, author of the 2015 book "Rain: A Natural and Cultural History."

Barnett told AFP on August 23 that weather modification is often a topic of misinformation because of its long history of secret use.

"There was a real conspiracy by the US military to unleash rain as a weapon in the Vietnam War," she said.

However, the United States in the 1970s joined dozens of countries in signing the Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques, which bans the use of such means in war. Cloud-seeding and other weather modification efforts are also regulated by state laws and the federal Weather Modification Reporting Act.

AFP has fact-checked other false and misleading claims about Hurricane Hilary here.

August 25, 2023 This article was updated to correct the spelling of Cynthia Barnett in the 26th and 27th paragraphs