Why is weather always changing? One day rain, one day bone-dry, the next day stormy; why can’t things stay the same? Why didn’t Hashem make weather as predictable as the days of the week and the months of the year – rain on Sunday, shine on Tuesday, a slight drizzle on Wednesday. That way it would never rain on anyone’s parade.
BILLIARD BALLS VERSUS REALITY
In Sefer Iyov (37:11), Iyov’s friend, Eliav, insists that irregular weather bears witness to Hashem’s hashgacha pratis when he tell Iyov: “Af bri yatriach av, yafi tz anan oro,” “Even when the sky is clear, He troubles the cloud, but the sun disperses the cloud.”
As the Alshich comments, “If all events followed a fixed routine, there would be no proof of hashgacha pratis. Imagine a day with a hot, dry wind and a cloudless sky. The sky suddenly becomes overcast with heavy rain clouds. Then, just as suddenly, the sun shines through dispersing the clouds…
Why should Hashem bring the clouds if He never intended it to rain? … No one can deny that this is a clear manifestation of hashgacha pratis.” By the end of the Nineteenth Century scientists regarded the world as a giant billiard table. Thinking that Man was on the brink of solving the world’s mysteries, savants questioned Eliav’s “uncertainty” principle and argued that, in theory, everything is predictable.
After all, all the atoms in existence are really nothing more than an extra large ultimate billiard table alive with a gazillion interacting billiard balls. A vast number of balls on a huge table to be sure, but basically no different than a billiard player extrapolating where his ball will end up after knocking against one or two balls in its path.
Just as such a player can calculate where his balls will end up after a hefty jab of his cue, so, regarding the whole of existence, learn where the winds come from and where they blow to, explore the sea’s currents, and one day you’ll easily predict whether next winter is going to be wet or dry.
That was how people thought in the early days of modern science. Since then, new concepts and theories have upset the applecart. On a sub-atomic level, it is generally accepted that not only is it practically impossible to discover what protons and electrons are up to due to their diminutive size, but theoretically impossible as well. No one will ever know whether any particular particle is dancing ballet or the kazatzka.
This is because of the “Uncertainty Principle” discovered by Werner Karl Heisenberg in 5687/1927. Heisenberg argues that sub-atomic events cannot be precisely measured even in principle – no one can determine both where a particle is located and how fast it is moving even at the very moment this is taking place. According to him, sub atomic life is based on probabilities. You can say that object x is probably at place y moving at momentum z. But in reality it might be ten miles away and moving five times faster.
“Fine!” you might argue. “What you are saying makes sense in the submicroscopic quantum world. But in our man-size world of reality things are what they are. Swing a baseball bat at a crystal vase and there is more than mere probability that the vase will smash to pieces!”
However, a famous scientific-paper put out in 5732/1972 publicized the concept that even macro-existence is next to impossible to predict. Titled,
“Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfl y’s Wings in Brazil set off a Tornado in Texas?” this paper explained that some earth systems are so sensitive to initial conditions that the slightest change at the onset can be the difference between a quiet summer’s day and a roaring tornado.
This strange idea known as Chaos Theory splits the world of mathematics into two kinds of equations; precisely solvable “linear” equations and the woolly realm of “non-linear” equations. Long-term weather prediction comes under the second category.
PROBLEMS OF POLLUTION
A good example of the second category is today’s pollution problem. Pour smoke into one end of the environment and you never know what will come out the other end. People didn’t always realize this. Since the industrial revolution people have been pouring an ever increasing amount of smog into the atmosphere without giving the matter a thought. China’s present wave of prosperity is fueled by the hugest smoke-fest in history in a weltanschauung where economic growth overrides everything.
There was a time when some scientists felt good about clouds of industrial smoke; they argued that cutting off sunlight might offset global warming. That was until the discovery that some kinds of smoke make the warming effect even more drastic.
To make things worse, the world renowned Israeli meteorologist (weather expert), Professor Daniel Rosenfeld of the Hebrew University of Yerushalayim, working in tandem with Chinese scientists, discovered that clouds of smog are drying out the world even faster than global warming.
Studying fifty years of records at Mount Hua in Central China, the scientists found a direct correlation between visibility and rainfall. Over the previous 50 years, smog from industrial development had decreased mountaintop visibility from about 23 to 12 miles, and during the same period, rainfall in the area dropped by up to 50 percent. Then this idea was put to the acid test.
Nine years ago, in the summer of 5748/1998, the giant tropical forests of Kalimantan, Indonesia began going up in smoke after lightning streaks from giant monsoon clouds overhead set them ablaze. Ironically, although the clouds looked more monstrous than usual, barely a drop of water was falling to put the fires out.
Due to the emergency, the Moslem Indonesian president felt it necessary to call in the Israeli expert, Daniel Rosenfeld, although, in order to not hurt the sensitivities of Indonesia’s largest Moslem population on earth he had Rosenfeld fl own in to his private airstrip instead of arranging his arrival via a public airport. Using data from NASA’s new TRMM (Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission) weather satellite, Rosenfeld demonstrated that the source of the problem was land developers who were burning huge strips of jungle hundreds of miles away.
From space, the satellite detected that the places where rain wasn’t falling were the precise locations of giant smoke plumes drifting from developers’ fires. Literally speaking, the jungles’ clouds were choking to death.
This was the first visible evidence for Rosenfeld’s theory that smog kills rain.
How does smog do this? First, one needs to know how rain falls. Clouds consist of drifting blankets of water vapor too light to fall to earth. The way some clouds work is that water vapor collects around tiny chunks of ice or dust and coalesces into raindrops. The placid looking clouds work hard as it takes about a million water droplets to create a one millimeter-sized big raindrop.
This coalescing procedure known as the Bergeron Process is the secret behind cloud seeding, which Israel has been practicing since 6721/1961 in a desperate attempt to combat the dry country’s decreasing rain. By scattering billions of silver iodide particles inside rain clouds, tiny water drops have more particles to cling to resulting in up to fifteen percent more rain.
How does pollution interfere with the raindrop forming process? When clouds become filled with tiny smoke particles, water vapor attaches to them and forms tiny droplets that are too small and light to fall down. The result – giant clouds choked to the brim with useless dwarf-raindrops. Overall, this can result in a 15 to 20 percent rain reduction.
However, at the same time that Rosenfeld was doing his research in China and elsewhere, other scientists were investigating the growing complaint of many Americans and Europeans that it always seems to rain more over weekends. Was this a psychological reaction of disgruntled football fanatics, or was this a true phenomenon, which would be strange, as besides the Sambatyon River, which Chazal tell us, ceases to flow every seven days to publicize the kedusha of Shabbos, there are no natural phenomena that relate to a seven day cycle.
In the end, it turned out that the problem was no figment of the imagination. The cause of weekend rain was smog and pollution that were causing a 22% higher chance of rain over weekends in places like the US Eastern Seaboard. The way it works is that from Monday to Friday, factories and cars pour out a black blanket that reaches a crescendo by the end of the week. These billions of particles drift into the clouds and provide more particles to which the water droplets cling.
Of course, this diametrically contradicts Rosenfeld’s assertion that small particles restrict rain production, and this led to the following summary of a lecture delivered in a forum of atmospheric sciences last year:
“We emphasize that once the precipitation cycle is altered in clouds by varying amounts of CCN, GCCN, and IN concentrations, the cloud responses can be very nonlinear [italics added].
Thus in some cases precipitation is decreased with increasing aerosols and others it is increased.”
In other words, smog sometimes increases rain and sometimes decreases it. Why? No one knows exactly. This is our old friend the non-linear equation in action – like so many aspects of the weather, man’s damaging interference, too, is non-linear and chaotic. The bottom line: The world is a delicate place. Monkey with the system and as fast as you solve one problem you stumble into another.
(Alshich citation: Allen, Ben. A Celestial Challenge. New York: Feldheim Publishers, 1996.)