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Ben Livingston: Cloud physicist has eye on hurricane control

Midland Reporter Telegram | September 25, 2005
By Jimmy Patterson

Waylon "Ben" Livingston knows his ideas are controversial, so he steps lightly when talking about them. His theories have been proven, the technology is in place. Research shows his ideas could save hundreds, maybe even thousands, of lives.

He is a fascinating man with credentials as long as the wingspan of the airplanes he flew as a commander with the U.S. Navy in Korea and Vietnam.

Livingston, 77, moved to Midland with his parents during the Depression. He earned his master's degree in cloud physics from the Naval Weapons Center and Navy Post Graduate School in California, a degree he would use in the battlefields. He seeded clouds and dramatically increased rainfall in his theater of war, creating impassably muddy roads, slowing down the Vietnamese and Korean troops, and saving lives and entire towns from occupation.

He is proudest of his award from the secretary of Navy, which says, "Lt. Livingston directly participated in project flights in a combat zone, in program planning, scientific data collection and evaluation ... his unwavering devotion to duty were major factors in the outstanding success of the project and were instrumental in the development of a unique, major combat capability for the United States."

Before receiving the citation, Livingston was invited to the White House where he briefed President Lyndon B. Johnson on the effectiveness of weather control activities and the resulting slowing of traffic by the military support trucks bringing supplies to Southeast Asian troops.

Livingston's findings deal with hurricanes and what scientists call weather modifications. His research includes 265 missions into the eyes of hurricanes and he calls himself maybe the "most disgusted" person in the country about Hurricane Katrina.

The storm, he says simply, could have been dramatically curtailed, the damage minimized, the levees of New Orleans saved.

Livingston works with scientists and pilots at Weather Modification Inc., in Fargo, N.D. His theories also have been verified by staffers there. He has logged 15,000 hours of hurricane reconnaissance experience and all of his penetrations into the eyes of hurricanes were of the low-level variety -- where he would fly in from low altitude then up and into the eye. He said the refraction of light onto the water through the eye of a hurricane is the most beautiful and memorable site he has ever witnessed. It was made even more so after nightfall when the stars and moon work together.

"In the 1960s, a national priority of our government was hurricane control," Livingston said. "Silver iodide is used as a nuclei that causes raindrops to form. The original hypothesis is that if you get enough rain or cool air into a hurricane you can diminish its velocity and strength. When I left the military in the 1960s, we had the ability to do that, and reduce wind velocity in hurricanes by 25 percent and damage caused by a hurricane by 63 percent."

Livingston said his research of hurricane control was confirmed by the Stanford Research Institute. The program of controlling hurricanes, though, was mysteriously dropped by the federal government because of, as he termed it, "politics and professional jealousy." Livingston said powerful Washington lobbies control areas preventing the reinstatement of the hurricane-reduction program, and when asked why it has not yet been resinstated, Livingston cites what he calls an "industry of destruction."

Livingston said his return trip this week to the WMI in Fargo will hopefully result in a reinstatement of his program in 2006. Although he says hurricane control is one thing the government should definitely be trying to do, he suggested hurricane control be privatized.

"You'd think the insurance and energy sectors would jump all over something like this, but they're not willing to go counter to a government agency," he said.

The hurricane control program, he said, is a "no-brainer when it is explained in simple terms," but he admitted it would cost millions of dollars to get off the ground.

"The bottom line is, you cannot make an argument against saving lives and propertry," Livingston said."If it can be done, it ought to be done."

Livingston, who does not believe global warming is to blame for the recent spate of deadly hurricanes along the Gulf coast, said reinstating the hurricane control program would have a greater impact for the good of the country.

"Someone a lot smarter than I am could make a significant contribution to our nation if they would just sit down with a half-dozen other smart people and talk about this," Livingston said.

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