By Linda Davies
Linda Davies explains how she got the ideas that collide to make her novel ARK STORM, and the fascinating and terrifying true-life science behind it.
What if you could control the weather?
Some years ago, I lived in Peru. Every so often I would escape the mayhem of Lima for Punta Sal, a little fishing village on the border with Ecuador. Hemingway used to fish there for marlin. Framed photographs of him grinning beside his huge catches adorn the walls of the ramshackle bars.
I went not to fish but to swim in the sea, body surfing the huge Pacific rollers. Normally you could only stay in for ten or fifteen minutes without a wetsuit because the Humboldt Current kept the waters cold, but one Christmas, the waters were balmy. I stayed in for two hours, marveling at the difference. El Nino had come, bringing with it warm waters. That’s where it is first felt, in the seas off that remote and under-populated border. Typically, the Nino phenomenon is felt around Christmas time and hence acquired its name—El Nino—the Christ Child.
The fishermen’s children, playing in the unusually warm waters, knew El Nino had come. As did I. But none of the world’s media seemed to have picked up this event, and did not do so for months.
It made me think, what if you or your business had a superior weather prediction system to the competition? With my financial background, I next thought, you could make out like a bandit using weather derivatives. It planted the seeds of a novel. It was a good idea, but not the big idea.
As a thriller writer, I’m always on the lookout for a real-life factual nugget around which I can spin a tale.
Then I got two really big ones, and they collided. I read an article in the newspaper about something called ARk Storm 1000—a catastrophic weather event where Biblical rains fall on the West coast of the United States and create more devastation that the feared “mega-quake.”
And then I experienced firsthand the effects of a new technology that can make it rain.
I thought, what if this technology were to fall into the wrong hands? What if somebody decided to use it to ramp up an ordinary atmospheric river storm into the ARk Storm 1000?
I needed someone who could understand and explain the science and so I invented her—my big-wave surfing meteorologist heroine—Dr. Gwen Boudain. It is from her point of view that I frame the novel. Her interactions with journalist and former Navy SEAL Dan Jacobsen push that narrative along in a number of interesting directions.
So back to the science. ARk Storms take their name from “Atmospheric Rivers.” Most people looking up on a clear day would never think that just a few miles above their heads a huge ribbon of moist air hundreds of miles wide and over a thousand long could be coursing through the atmosphere at speeds in excess of 40 feet a second.
Small atmospheric river storms hit around the world every year. But every so often, a monster emerges. In California they are preparing for the next one. A team of 117 scientists, engineers, and public policy and insurance experts under the umbrella of the Multi-Hazards Demonstration Project worked for two years to create the hypothetical scenario of what such a storm could be and what damage it would wreak across the state of California. In an ARk Storm 1000 scenario, this river, described by the head of the ARk Storm Unit as “like forty Mississippis,” races from the tropics toward the West Coast of the U.S., then hits, and keeps on hitting. The storm door opens and fails to close. Rain falls in feet instead of inches. There would be major landslides across the state, 1.5 million people would need to be evacuated, 9 million homes would be flooded, and damage would hit $1 trillion. This is a storm so intense it has been described as “like Hurricane Katrina pushed through a keyhole.”
Major ARk Storms have hit California on a regular basis, roughly every two hundred years. The last huge one was in 1861–62 when it rained continuously for forty-five consecutive days. Witnesses describe a “flying river” washing away livestock and humans. That storm turned the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys into a lake. And bankrupted the state. And it gets worse. The geological record shows six mega-storms more severe than 1861–62 hit in California in the last 1800 years. History suggests the next one is due…
That in itself is fascinating enough, but then I stumbled onto the technology where rain can be created.
It was the summer of 2010. I was living in Dubai. I read that dramatically heavy rains were falling in the deserts of neighbouring El Ain in the United Arab Emirates. The historical average number of rainfall events for June through September is two. The National Weather Service had forecast zero rain events over that period. But it did rain. On fifty-two separate occasions. And hail fell and gales blew. It made the international news.
There were rumors of masts in the desert, of scientists and computer models.
It sounded like something out of a James Bond movie. And then I read an article that explained what had been going on.
It was the work of scientists. Technicians were mounting ionizers on masts, producing electrons that attached to dust particles in the atmosphere.These dust particles rose by convection until they reached the right height for cloud formation where they attracted water molecules floating in the air which then started to condense around them. Billions of droplets of rain formed and fell.
So far, so Bondian. Then I heard about the latest twist where the ionizers are sent up on drones, which led me to think of terrorists… and I had myself a novel.
It had all the things I love to write about: science, terrorism, financial shenanigans, counterterrorism, and in the midst of it a wonderful heroine.
Welcome to ARK STORM.
Linda Davies worked as an investment banker before escaping to write the international bestseller NEST OF VIPERS. She has written multiple books since, Financial Thrillers and Young Adult thrillers. She spent three years living in Peru and eight years living in the Middle East. In 2005 she and her husband were kidnapped at sea by Iranian government forces and held hostage in Iran for two weeks before being released. She has written about her experiences in her first non-fiction book, HOSTAGE (published this August 2014). She now lives near the sea, where she swims, but chooses not to sail.
To learn more about Linda, please visit her website.