Cirrus at 40,000; a science story about a death prediction

Here they are:

6:44 PM.  Some Cirrus spissatus floated over late yesterday.  When its unusually warm, Cirrus are often unusually high such as yesterday's.
6:44 PM. Some Cirrus spissatus (thicker blobs) floated over late yesterday. When its unusually warm, Cirrus are often unusually high altitude such as yesterday’s.

Still no rain in the two week model “headlights”…and believe me I look for it.

A science story

While we’re waiting for “weather”, I thought I would partially bore you with another science story.

I am supposed to be dead by now, well, within 5-10 years after 2003 due to the development of a rare disease called pseudomyxoma peritonei, resulting from a tumor called, mucinous cystadenoma. Actually, I feel so good today at 71 years of age, doing more weight at the gymnasium than I ever have in the past 16 years on some machines, I tell friends that it must be a pre-death “bloom.”

But back in August of 2003, I left work with an incredible gut pain and ended up in the ER at the University of Washington’s hospital, never having finished that afternoon cup of coffee. After a day or so of monitoring, the doc there, Mika Sinanen, “went in” with his team.   It wasn’t presenting as a classic appendicitis.  He found a tumor exiting the appendix. He had never seen this before, and didn’t know what it was.

Later, while in his office, the pathologist came back with the report on it.  It was a “mucinous cystadenoma”, not cancerous.  But SInanen wasn’t as excited as I thought he should be that it wasn’t cancer.   He told me to meet with the University Hospital’s surgical oncologist.

A few days later I was informed by that oncologist that I would likely experience a series of abdominal operations over the coming years due to the development of the disease called, pseudomyxoma peritonei, in which a mucinous jelly like growth attaches to organs in the gut.   There is no cure I was told; portions of the gut are removed, the doc said, until no more can be removed and you die of “blockage.”  It didn’t sound good.

Keep in mind the date of this event, August 2003.

Now the science part.

In September of 2002 a farmer from west Texas was upset over a cloud seeding program his county was going to undertake and had decided to write to all of the universities having atmospheric science programs about the status of cloud seeding. Was it proven? And would it work in the summer clouds of west Texas?

He eventually reached me at the University of Washington. I had published critiques and reanalyses of cloud seeding experiments in peer-reviewed journals, usually with the Director of our Cloud and Aerosol Group, Peter V. Hobbs, as a co-author, over the preceeding 25 years. In the farmer’s note, he said that he had contacted over 130 universities, and that my name had come up often. I cherish that e-mail even today, an indication that your peers had noticed your work.

I should mention that all of this reananlysis work was self-initiated, and except for one paper, they were done off and on on my own time with no funding whatsoever over a period of about 25 years. I sometimes partially joke about this aspect in introductions of talks on this subject by describing all this self-funded work as a “crackpot alert”. But I was trying to be a good crackpot.

I sent this farmer the fairest objective one-page note on cloud seeding I could, one that I thought my peers would also agree with. Its our job as scientists, even if with think they are still faulty reports out there, we have to cite them until they are officially overturned. I wrote to the this farmer that cloud seeding had not been proven in those types of clouds (summer Cumulonimbus ones) in ways that we in the science community would find convincing. That is, proven through randomized experiments, double blind ones, and in which the results had been replicated. That’s the gold standard for all science. I did point out, as I must as a scientist, that there were “promising results” using hygroscopic methods of seeding of such clouds. That was about it.

Implementing a commercial cloud seeding project creates jobs (don’t forget, the author has participated in these), and it looks good for sponsoring organizations, like state and county governments, to try to do something about droughts. Makes constituents happy even if most academic scientists question such a practice absent proper evidence.

Within 24 h of sending that note, I received this e-mail from Texas:

“You will die in 11 months from a fast-growing tumor, you f…… rascal.”

It was pretty odd since it had a timeline, and that 11 months was odd, and I thought use of the word “rascal” didn’t fit the preceding expletive. Another expletive would have fit better.  There was no way to connect this e-mail to the note I sent that farmer, but the timing made it clear it had something to do with it.

Well, EXACTLY 11 months after that note I was on my way to the hospital leaving a half a cup of coffee on my desk at the U of WA due to an odd tumor exiting my appendix. And, by golly, I WAS going to die, but in 5-10 years!

I will never forget that day the surgical oncologist at the U of Washington hospital told me that. The disease never showed.

I always wanted to write to that e-mail address from where the threat originated (a phony one) and say,
“Hah-hah (emulating “Nelson” on The Simpsons); it was a SLOW growing tumor!”


One final note.

Scientists don’t like it when you’re reanalyzing their work, naturally. The very first review I saw of my first paper reanalyzing a randomized cloud seeding experiment was so bad, and had a personal attack that I did not have the credentials to reanalyze that experiment1 it made a fellow, cartoon-drawing graduate student in our group, Tom Matejka, laugh.  He then came up with the image below of how that reviewer must have seen me. His drawing was so perfect a depiction, I loved it.  The paper, “A reanalysis of the Wolf Creek Pass cloud seeding experiment”, was the lead article in the May 1979 issue of the Journal of Applied Meteorology.seeding cartoon of art

I have also included a photo of Tom, one of my favorite grad students passing through our Cloud and Aerosol Group at Washington. You can see the playfulness in his face.

Tom Matejka, circa 1979.
Tom Matejka, circa 1979.


1True, actually; I had no credentials in that domain at that time.